Last weekend in the UK harboured the annual Glastonbury festival. With it came the usual banter from the press: is the whole thing too commercialised blah blah blah, wasn’t the token hip-hop act well received blah blah blah, predictable and entirely inaccurate spiel about Coldplay being boring blah blah blah …
In the midst of all this, however, there was a genuine surprise: that the freshest, most engaging, wonderful, life-affirming Glasto set came from Pulp, the Sheffield-born misfits who have reunited following a nine-year hiatus. While reading a swathe of five-star reviews (from the kind of people who would have dismissed Pulp as ‘clapped-out’ a decade back) this writer couldn’t help but enjoy a smug realisation. The world has finally, finally caught up to the truth that a select few of us always held evident – that Pulp, along with Radiohead, are the greatest British band of the last twenty years.
Thanks to the massive hit ‘Common People’, Pulp are often unfairly linked in with the dreadful Britpop scene, a mid-90s phenomenon in which middle-class art school graduates like Damon Albarn pretended to be a cockney chimney sweep for a few years. A few bands – including Albarn’s own Blur – grew out of this, later becoming remarkably diverse artists in their own right. Pulp did so too … but in a hugely different way.
In 1997, they released ‘This Is Hardcore’, and effectively committed commercial suicide. ‘Hardcore’ was the post-Britpop hangover, a sneering and bitter riposte to the ridiculous ‘Cool Britannia’ ideology that was thankfully beginning to die out at the time. It was tortured, miserable, perverse, twisted and a total failure sales-wise. It’s also one of the best albums ever made, and is far, far, far from getting even a tenth of the recognition it deserves.
As is ‘We Love Life’, their 2001 follow-up, produced by Scott Walker. Also a commercial blow-out, it contains some of their finest, most mature work, and sees Jarvis Cocker finally emerging from his late 90s malaise. Not quite as incredible as ‘Hardcore’, but a solid entry in the ‘best of the decade’ stakes.
On a personal note, there’s an odd sense of irritation that Pulp are getting recognised as one of the great British bands. What took everyone else so long to get to the party? Where were you when no-one liked them anymore? And – as their resurgence in popularity continues, the question I’ll be asking the most – how many of the reappraisers actually ‘get’ Pulp, and how many just like them again because it’s suddenly cool to do so?
Anyway – because I’m sometimes a proponent of that whole ‘dancing about architecture’ cliche, the best way to remind you how remarkable Pulp are is to simply let you listen to them.
Take their great way with a pure pop tune, for example:
And their encapsulation of teenage angst:
And their ability to write classic love songs:
And to be genuinely hilarious at times:
And to make social commentary that isn’t cringeworthy:
And, of course, the greatest Barry-White-influenced duet with Neneh Cherry ever recorded:
Pretty good stuff, all in all.