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Pulp - We Love Life

  by David McNamee

published: 17 / 12 / 2001

Pulp - We Love Life
Label: Island Records
Format: CD


At various points titled ‘Pulp Love Life’, ‘Pulp Heart Life’ and the more sober, resigned ‘Pulp’, Jarvis Cocker and co. finally opted for the declarative, optimistic 'We Love Life' tag on their latest

At various points titled ‘Pulp Love Life’, ‘Pulp Heart Life’ and the more sober, resigned ‘Pulp’, Jarvis Cocker and co. finally opted for the declarative, optimistic 'We Love Life' tag on their latest LP (apparently their 7th although frankly it feels more like their 17th) as an almost Koons-y response to the morale-sapping global events of recent weeks. It’s a curious statement for a band that, unlike any other of their genre, across their 20-odd year existence preserved an appetite for the grimy, low-down minutiae of sex, society and streetlife. Of course, in the wake of 'This Is Hardcore', their charged, relentlessly downbeat 1998 outro from mid-nineties mega stardom, it’d be impossible to expect Jarvis to persevere with the self-suffering poet archetype. For a start, pretension was never Pulp’s bag. Precocious sure, maybe even precious at times, but the needling wit and dynamism with which they attacked their targets (even while those attacks were self-directed) always spun their songs into neon anthems that put their angst-poseur rivals to bitter shame. And like Yazz said, the only way is up. Baby. News however that Jarvis had abandoned his seedy urban voyeurism for Songs of Innocence style reflections on birds, trees and nature initially seemed almost as alarming as the recruitment of fame-exile and icon Scott Walker into the producer’s chair. Those grim dualities of 'This Is Hardcore', where pornography is a synonym for success, prostitution a metaphor for fame; had it all really been too much for the nation's working class hero? Had Jarvis gone mad ? It would seem not. Indeed, 'We Love Life' doesn’t represent half the departure from Pulp’s longstanding idiosyncrasies that we’d been led to expect. The perplexing concerns over nature are no more the journals of a dedicated David Attenborough follower than 'This Is Hardcore' was of a barrel-scraping porn star. Instead, Cocker invokes these images merely in allusion to the usual lyrical Pulpisms. Thus the opening 'Weeds' naturally isn’t really about gardening but is rather more of a middle-aged 'Mis-Shapes'. Weeds – Pulp are the weeds of the world. Fragile, easily crushed, but defiant despite growing where they’re not wanted: "Through cracks in the pavement the weeds will grow/Places you don’t go". Elsewhere the shady monologues of golden-era Pulp standards such as "Acrylic Afternoons" or "I Spy" are reprised: "Pudgy 15 year-olds addicted to coffee whitener/Courting couples naked on Northern Upholstery/Pensioners gathering dust like bowls of plastic tulips" all cameo in the inception of a doomed romance, detailed in Cocker’s trademark semi-ridiculous spoken word delivery. His metaphors are clumsily simplistic, like adolescent poetry, but thankfully grounded and largely absent of the foot-in-mouth irony that has unwittingly blown the toes off many an indie pop wannabe. Most touchingly on the albums monograph, "I Love Life", Jarvis puts to bed the plagues of guilt over the second-childhood of his late-coming pop stardom and the attendant slump into wretchedness. "Here it goes/Your bedtime story mum and dad/I’ve sentenced you to life/Don’t think twice/ It’s the only reason I’m alive/I feel alright as long as I don’t forget to breathe breathe in breathe out". It's a rare moment of desperation and admittance on an album held together by thin lyrical concerns that could so easily collapse into insincerity and sarcasm. "Take my arms and fill them full of life…" he sighs ‘Does it ease the pain of being alive?" Would Thom Yorke ever be so inclined to shrug away the etched-in-stone seriousness of his career persona? Would Brett Anderson? The brief resignation of ‘kiss goodbye to my love life’ presumably refers not to Cocker’s despondency in the wake of an unsuccessful tryst with actress Chloe Sevigny, but his urge to eject the Nerd Romeo part of his make-up that preys on the fallibility in relationships and reduces them to bitter analyses, an interpretation qualified by his closing refrain of "I’m gonna fight to the death till they give me back my life!" Of course, where the enigmatic Mr Walker (nee Engels) enters into all of this is anyone’s guess. His own output has hardly been prolific (two albums in 23 years) and it seems bizarre that his return to the recording studio would be in producing a reedy-voiced Northener who has carried the burdening tags of ‘wannabe’ and ‘has been’, simultaneously, practically since he first started making music in an affectatious little high school art band. Scott’s own 'Till The Band Comes In LP' is even referenced during 'Bad Cover Version' in a biting list of crushing let-downs in Cocker’s life which also includes the Planet Of The Apes TV series and late Tom & Jerry cartoons "where the two of them could talk". Only 'Birds In Your Garden' bears evidence to the Walker spirit, with a half-crooned 'Scott 4' style chorus reeking of manly-loneliness. Musically any advances Pulp have made in recent years, judging by this album, have been purely negligible. True, they seem constantly at pains to distance themselves from their 'Different Class' Smash Hits shagging alter-egos, but it has occurred at the expense of one of their most influential components (former violinist/guitarist/aesthete Russell Senior) and of the strange pop music they made throughout most of the 90's. Indeed, on key tracks like 'The Trees', there even appears to be a bleak reversion to dreary 80's indie. Pulp succeeded in giving a characterless, charmless decade in pop history a spirit and sense of identity all of its own. That kind of achievement just doesn’t occur without the damnation of nostalgia and Pulp’s identity in the 21st Century – where 'Disco 2000' is irrelevant, 'Common People' a Stuart Maconie anecdote on I Love 1995 – is as nebulous today as that of the intellectual pop perverts limp-wristedly strumming away in Def Leppard’s shadow in 1980's Sheffield. If they can find it in themselves to wring remnants of magic out of a fading career, then fair play. But their urgent, dramatic anthems have disappeared in the absence of really having anything to prove anymore. Jarvis is, and forever will be, an iconic figure in British songwriting, but Pulp’s position in pop’s firmament is no longer fixed, no longer constant. But maybe that’s just what they wanted all along. They love their life. It’s the only reason they’re alive.

Track Listing:-
1 Weeds
2 Weeds II{ The Origin Of The Species}
3 The Night That Minnie Timperley Died
4 The Trees
5 Wickerman
6 I Love Life
7 The Birds In Your Garden
8 Bob Lind {The Only Way Is Down}
9 Bad Cover Version
10 Roadkill
11 Sunrise

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