You have to wonder if Jarvis Cocker wakes up in the morning and wishes that Britpop had never happened. It might have given his band the success they’d spent 15 years chasing, but the subsequent comedown has been long and agonising – and it doesn’t seem to be over quite yet.
‘We Love Life’ has been billed as a renaissance after Pulp
went wildly off the rails on their last album – 1998’s ‘This Is Hardcore’. The problem with that record wasn’t just that it was drab and largely tuneless, but that it was such a wretched cliché. A whole record about how VIP parties really get you down was the last thing anyone wanted to hear.
It’s been suggested that Cocker has now got over all that by making a back-to-nature album. He hasn’t. Two songs in particular (‘I Love Life’ and ‘Bob Lind’) pick up exactly where ‘This Is Hardcore’ left off. The first is about trying to get your life back together again, the second is another maudlin hack at the pointlessness of celebrity. When nature does actually appear, it’s shrouded in comic gloom. Rivers stink (‘Wickerman’), magpies get shot (‘Trees’) and deer die slowly in the road (‘Roadkill’). Elswhere, murder and dismal relationships are on hand to keep spirits high.
Still, what saves this record from being another wallow in the misery of post-fame existence is the music. Produced by legendary 60s icon and professional recluse Scott Walker – the first time he’s done that for anyone apart from himself – ‘We Love Life’ is a grandiose, symphonic affair buoyed by succinct orchestration and white-light choral interludes. At times, the music really sparkles as it soars above Cocker’s bleakly-intoned spoken-word meditations.
You may have already heard ‘Sunrise’, the flipside of their ‘The Trees’ single, and if so, the way that mushrooms into a huge panorama of sound will give you some idea about what to expect. Walker only really does epic, and that suits Pulp
just fine. From the edgy thrust of ‘The Night Minnie Timperley Died’ through to the album’s centrepiece, the seven-plus minutes of spaghetti-western atmospherics that comprise ‘Wickerman’, this is a consistently breathtaking venture, and one that operates in a similar orbit to, say, Spiritualized.
And for that reason, if this is to be Pulp’s
swansong – and that’s got to be a possibility, whatever Cocker claims in interviews – at least they can go out with their heads held high. The Britpop years might not have been exorcised lyrically, but musically they’ve moved onto an altogether higher plane.