January 15, 2018

Scot and Jeff talk to Karol Markowicz about Pulp.

Introducing the Band
Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Karol Markowicz, opinion columnist for the New York Post and elsewhere. Follow Karol on Twitter at @karol and read her work here.

Karol's musical pick: Pulp
The gang has decided to meet up in the year 2018 and marvel at how strange it is now that they're all fully grown and discussing Pulp, a fixture of both Karol's and Jeff's younger days back in the 1990's. Karol reminisces about living in Scotland during the era of Britpop and Pulp's greatest ascendancy, and closing down countless dance floors and discotheque's to the sounds of "Disco 2000," while Jeff recalls the awkwardness of high school and how he couldn't help but feel that songs like "Mis-Shapes" were speaking directly to him.

Ten Years in the Wilderness: Pulp 1981-1992
The gang discusses Pulp's early, awkward years - a full ten-plus years of struggling as an on-again/off-again regional act for Jarvis Cocker and his band as they sought to figure out who they were as musicians, what the band's lyrical vision would be, and how to actually write a catchy melody. From the wispy folk-rock of the 1983 debut It to the overwrought gothicism and gloom of Freaks and Master Of The Universe to the breakthrough (in terms of sonic blueprint at least) of Separations, an album that sat in the can for two years after its 1989 recording.

Pulp Put it Together: the Gift Recordings and His 'N' Hers
Almost miraculously, in 1992 Pulp finally figure out the right synth tones, the right guitar-layering, the right production, and the right songwriting craft: nothing in their previous discography had ever sounded as assured, joyful, well-produced, or instantly, memorably catchy as 1992's "O.U. (Gone, Gone)" and this the moment where "modern" Pulp truly begins. That continues with His 'N' Hers (1994), which Jeff considers their finest record even if it's the least well-known of their four mature-period works. "Lipgloss" may just be the best song they ever recorded.

Becoming Cultural Icons: Different Class and "Common People"
With the release of Different Class (1995) Pulp go from being just another band on the Britpop scene to cultural immortality in the United Kingdom. Jeff thinks this their most overrated record, but Karol and Scot think he's seized with contrarian folly and rank it as Pulp's greatest. That's in keeping with general critical opinion in the UK, where Different Class is ranked as one of the best (if not the best, full stop) albums of the 1990s, and certainly the one with the most sociological/cultural import. That import can be heard in all of the remarkably precise, savagely observant Jarvis Cocker lyrical commentaries of this record ("Sorted For E's & Wizz,""Bar Italia," "I Spy," etc.), but no more perfectly so than on "Common People": a song that encapsulates its era, both lyricaly and musically, better than all others.

The Sound of Someone Losing the Plot? This Is Hardcore
Pulp's labored follow-up to Different Class was This Is Hardcore (1998), a record far darker and more crabbed than its predecessor. Gone are the glossy upbeat anthemic sounds of songs like "Disco 2000" or "Common People," replaced with tales of sodden sexuality, suffocatingly paranoid grooves like "The Fear" and the title track, and the occasional lament about being over-the-hill (the glorious "Help The Aged"). Pulp's mass audience fell off after this album, for obvious reasons, but the entire gang loves it and Scot and Jeff in particular rate it among Pulp's best work (and Cocker's best set of lyrics). They also take time to praise some of the non-album material from this era as well: Scot loves "Cocaine Socialism" (a scathing attack on the high decadence of Blairite Labour during the late '90s) and Jeff rhapsodizes about "Like A Friend."

Pulp Crashes Out at Dawn: We Love Life
Pulp's final record, 2001's We Love Life, is usually treated as a junior partner to the trio of records that precede it, but Jeff's not sure that's fair. He thinks this is their most underrated record and finds it to be a strangely appealing act of coming full circle for the band: after years of synth and dance-based musical approaches, Pulp's last album feels in some ways like a bit of a throwback to their first, It: a guitar-based album full of neo-acoustic folk touches and gentle strings. The only failing is that Cocker doesn't seem to have written melodies as good as the instrumental tracks which surround this music.

Karol, Scot and Jeff each pick their two key albums and five key songs by Pulp.

Pictured: Pulp lead singer Jarvis Cocker performs on stage during his concert in Saint-Cloud near Paris, August 25, 2007. (Benoit Tessier/Reuters)

You can subscribe to Political Beats on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, and TuneIn. You can also download this episode here.