Review Summary: For Tomorrow: A Guide to Contemporary British Music, 1988-2013 (Part 58)
Pulp’s 2001 swan-song We Love Life
drips with the exhaustion of a band that really had to rouse themselves for one more go. Considering how pained This is Hardcore
sounded, this makes sense. That album concluded with frontman Jarvis Cocker bidding farewell. “Tapers are over/Irony is over/Bye bye/Bye bye,” he stated on “The Day After the Revolution”. It wouldn’t have been surprising if we never heard from Pulp again after that. Yet three years later arrived We Love Life
and it remains singular as the rare document that tells the story of, not what happened after the party (Different Class
), but what happened after the after-party (This is Hardcore
We Love Life
is worn out but determined from note one. A thick, guitar strum opens “Weeds” as the track barrels straight into the first verse with barely an intro. The great trick that “Weeds” pulls off is the slam-bang chorus’ don’t sound promised. Like the song might just fall apart before it gets there, yet manages to talk itself into going for it every time. And it does. If Cocker is truly great at just one thing it might be the earned chorus. When he really wants to write a big hook, it never feels cheap or pandering but wholly justified. So when “Weeds” blasts into it’s “We are weeds, vegetation, dense undergrowth!” hook it shows that, worn out by the 90s as he might be, Cocker hasn’t given up on headlining festivals just yet.
“Weeds” is immediately followed by its groovy spoken word sequel “Weeds II: Origin of the Species”. “Come on, do your dance/Come on, do your funny little dance,” Cocker implores those weeds (AKA, you and me), “Germination, plantation, exploitation, civilization/A sensational buzz.” From there we get the immediately accessible midsection duo “The Night That Minnie Timperley Died” and “The Trees”. The former balances its big obvious guitar noise with wriggling disturbing lyrics like “You're such a beautiful girl/And he only did what he did/’cause you looked like one of his kids.” The latter sports a magisterial string sample and one of the album’s best hooks as Cocker muses on the relation between “the smell of leaf mould and the sweetness of decay” and a breakup. Here, We Love Life
reaches its most challenging section with the 8 minute “Wickerman”. In it, Cocker sketches his hometown Sheffield as a bit of a hellhole, a place where “little mesters [cough] their lungs up” and “pudgy fifteen-year olds [are] addicted to coffee whitener”.
As fantastically produced as This is Hardcore
was, We Love Life
might be an even better
sounding album. Jumping from producer Chris Thomas to prolific experimentalist Scott Walker, We Love Life
is masterfully produced. Each and every instrument is operating in miles of space, nothing feels tossed off or underthought nor does it feel labored over. It’s the kind of album you can turn up as much as you want and it never becomes painfully shrill, it simply reveals more of its intricacies. Like the little exhale that follows “breathe in, breathe out, breathe in” on the bitterly sarcastic “I Love Life” or the beautifully constructed chorus of “The Birds in Your Garden”, replete with “Ahh”s and chiming guitars all precisely placed in the mix.
Shortly after the release of We Love Life
Pulp finally called it quits. After a lengthy hiatus, the Different Class
-era lineup of the band reunited to play a series of shows. By all accounts, the shows were cracking with the entire band in fine form throughout. But Pulp declined the opportunity to release any new music. Maybe it’s because they were daunted by the idea of ending their career on something other than We Love Life
finale “Sunrise”. Concluding a career that reaches all the way back to 1978 (!!!) with a song this beamingly optimistic is downright inspiring. “I used to hate the sun because it shone on everything I'd done,” muses Cocker over crisp acoustic guitar and booming drums, “Made me feel that all that I had done was overfill the ashtray of my life.” But, following one verse and no real chorus’ the song begins lifting off. “Sunrise” then spends the last half of it’s runtime in an insane climax that finds the entire band lifting off into heaven. It’s the kind of climax that would usually be tampered down by Cocker’s pragmaticism in the past but here he just stands aside and lets Pulp achieve the happy ending they deserve. So it closes the door on Pulp, not as stage crashing weirdo losers but stage crashing weirdo losers that seized the moment, kicked British music square in the ass, and rocked the hell out of some huge stages, making some fantastic music all the while.