Common people? Hardly
While fellow urban diarists Brett Anderson and Damon Albarn wrapped their observations in swathes of arch detachment, Jarvis Cocker’s wry, grubby-pawed musings were always gloriously accessible. Back when Britpop was the music du jour, Cocker was One of Us; a corduroy-clad, thigh-rubbing Pied Piper who promised to lead misfits and mainstreamers alike towards a wondrous, pop-hued Valhalla, a place where we could all dress like slightly creepy art tutors without fear of ridicule. Unlike their contemporaries, Pulp‘s legacy – from such Formica-topped, sad-eyed, retro-unique delights as ‘Babies’, ‘Lipgloss’ and ‘Razzamatazz’ to monumental everyman-anthem ‘Common People’ – still chimes with the timeless ring of pop authenticity. Yet for a group that had spent a decade on pop’s reserve bench, their reaction to conventional acceptance was, to some, confounding.
Following the huge success of 1995’s ‘Different Class’, Pulp opened the curtains and let the dark in. With their gaudy pop threads eschewed for hushed orchestration and solemn introspection, 1998’s ‘This is Hardcore’ marked the end of their halcyon chart occupation yet, conversely, the beginning of Cocker’s most creatively fecund period. The messy electro-grind of the magnificent, Bowie-aping ‘Party Hard’, the bleak paternal odyssey that is ‘A Little Soul’: this wasn’t hardcore, this was the low (g)rumble of encroaching middle-age and it fitted Pulp like a leatherette glove. Here, ‘Sunrise’, ‘The Trees’ (from last year’s understated ‘We Love Life’) and doleful new track ‘Last Day of the Miners’ Strike’ embody Cocker’s most recent meditations; thoughtful, intense and ‘mature’ yet infused with a quiet optimism. Evolution, as Alan Partridge would put it, not revolution.
Ultimately, ‘Hits’ serves as both celebration and lament. While it proffers a suitably clamorous fanfare for one of the greatest of all British pop bands, it also marks the end of the most public chapter of Pulp‘s strange tale. Wherever life takes restless, permanently questioning father-to-be Jarvis Cocker, ‘Hits’ remains true to Pulp‘s word; that even when they were looking back, their eyes were trained on the future. Common people? Hardly.