Last Saturday Pulp’s sixth studio album This Is Hardcore turned 15. Released on March 30th 1998, the album was the ambitious follow-up to their 1995 breakthrough, Different Class. The album was eagerly anticipated and on its release it received both critical acclaim and a number one spot in the UK charts.
For me, This Is Hardcore might not necessarily be the bands crowning moment, but there’s so many great things about it that I can’t help but celebrate it today. So, I invite you to raise a glass and join me in wishing This Is Hardcore a happy fifteenth-birthday.
Easily one of the most controversial album covers of the nineties, the artwork for This is Hardcore shows a naked woman draped across a red leather sofa. Photographed by Horst Diekgerdes with art direction from Peter Saville and American painter John Currin, the artwork plays on the belief that “all publicity is good publicity”.
For Pulp’s front-man Jarvis Cocker, the artwork held more then just shock value, it was a way to make the band be taken more seriously. According to Saville, the title doesn’t refer to pornography, but rather to the “new, hard, resolute spirit of the band”. Pulp are hardcore, and the artwork creates a paradox where reality and fantasy blur. This crossover echos Cocker’s frustrations with how fame had changed the world around him and Saville and Currin’s artwork highlights the dehumanizing nature of pornography, emphasizing one of the album’s main themes.
To learn more about this artwork I can’t recommend Hugh Aldersey-Williams’ fantastic piece from New Statesman highly enough. You can read it on the Pulp fansite Acrylic Afternoons.
This Is Hardcore is an album filled with great tracks but it’s the singles ‘Help The Aged’ and ‘This is Hardcore’ that really steal the show. The latter in particular encapsulates what the band and the album do so well.
‘This Is Hardcore’ is a sordid monument to weary decadence and sinister secrets. It’s lavish orchestral grandeur and dark unsentimental lyrics mark it out as arguably one of the finest tracks of the 90s. As Twitter user @fromdesktildawn so aptly put it in a piece for The Guardian, it is “the Sexual Healing for the indie kids and geeks of this world”.
In addition to the excellent ‘This Is Hardcore’ video by Doug Nichol, the album also brought us the iconic image of Jarvis taking a stair-lift to heaven. The video for ‘Help The Aged’ was a career defining moment for film and music video director Garth Jennings and his producer Nick Goldsmith (aka Hammer & Tongs). Dark, elegant and beautifully surreal, this video captured the tone of the album perfectly. It also features images and art-direction from John Currin, but more importantly it contains some of Cocker’s amazing moves!
If you wish to listen to the album I’ve embedded both Rdio and Spotify playlists below. Happy Birthday This Is Hardcore!