For the past month, I’ve been curiously nostalgic for This is Hardcore, the 1998 album by Pulp. I’ve had various songs from it on rotation in my head all through February, with seemingly no rhyme or reason: the title track, “I’m A Man,” “The Fear,” whatever. There’s seemingly no rhyme or reason for it — they just show up in my head and play for awhile until they’re done, and then disappear as effortlessly and nonsensically as they arrived.
The thing that makes it so strange is that I’m not a really big fan of the album, per se; I don’t even own a copy. (I did buy a bunch of the singles that came from it, though, leading to “my” versions of some songs being the off-model, off-album versions; there was a longer version of “The Fear” in particular that feels right in a way that the album version doesn’t.)
I wasn’t a Pulp fan, not really. Part of that was because they felt omnipresent during the Britpop heyday, a band — and in Jarvis Cocker, a frontman — that was always there, always playing or being talked about, feeling exhausting as a result. This was down to my friends as much as it was pop culture, I know; I was hanging out with a crowd who loved the band far before “Common People” broke through, and even farther before I’d heard the word hipster, and Cocker was pretty much synonymous with cool, not that any of us would have used that word without irony at the time.
This is Hardcore, as it turns out, is an album about all of that; an album of exhaustion and hangovers and realizing that the dreams and aspirations of Britpop as a whole (and Cocker in particular) were hollow and unsatisfying, and wondering what else there was. It’s a melancholy album, one of the reasons I didn’t really like it when it was released, when I was young and still filled with some of those aspirations myself.
In that respect, it’s maybe an old man’s album, which might explain why it’s returned to my mental playlist: I’ve aged into it, and grown into the regret of younger choices that permeates the whole thing. Or perhaps I’ve just realized that “I’m A Man” still sounds great, more than two decades later.