Pulp: Hits

Devon Powers

Pulp have a greatest hits record, and it's about goddamned time. The enigmatic group, fronted by the inimitable Jarvis Cocker, are by far the oldest and wisest of the Britpop behemoths.



Label: Island
US Release Date: 2003-06-24
UK Release Date: 2002-11-18

Pulp have a greatest hits record, and it's about goddamned time. The enigmatic group, fronted by the inimitable Jarvis Cocker, are by far the oldest and wisest of the Britpop behemoths. Together since 1978, Cocker & Co. were fringe artists for over a decade before making their major label debut in 1994, with His 'N' Hers. Those years laboring thanklessly in obscurity have lent Pulp a maturity and resolve lacking in many of the bands who simply arose during those '90s banner days. Yes, Pulp rode the wave, but they also saw it coming (maybe even helped to create it), and had the tenacity to maintain course after its crest.

That said, greatest hits records are always peculiar beasts, usually taking undue liberties with the words "greatest" or "hits", or both. This particular collection is no exception. Though Pulp fans devout and casual will note its inclusion of the requisite Pulp hits -- like the formerly inescapable, unforgivably catchy "Disco 2000" -- it also harbors songs that are lesser hits ("This Is Hardcore") and, well, just generally lesser ("Trees"). With the bar for greatness and hit-ness considerably lowered, it's a wonder why the compilation sticks exclusively to post-popularity Pulp, bypassing little known but hearty gems from their early career. (Even if albums like It and Freaks remain untapped, it's criminal to not include "My Legendary Girlfriend", the first single to put the band on the map.)

What it does include, however, is largely top shelf, demonstrating the clever asides and bold melodies that are critical to the Pulp way. The album covers the group's career chronologically, pulling equally from their four post-1994 albums. His 'N' Hers supplies the first four tracks, "Babies", "Razzmatazz", "Lipgloss", and "Do You Remember the First Time". These tracks together are awash with freewheeling synthy soundscapes, tarted up with categorically Cockeresque cheekiness. "Lipgloss" especially has a renewed sheen here, as Cocker details the downfall of a socialite who has lost her lover's affections. "No wonder you're looking thin / When all that you live on is lipgloss and cigarettes", Cocker slithers, musing melodrama over the festival of keyboards. Then and now, a killer song.

The pace is kept up on the first song featured from 1995's now classic Different Class, "Common People". Different Class took the keen social observation of His 'N' Hers and worked it up to biting social commentary, and "Common People" is the most biting of them all. It is an anthem's anthem -- building to monstrous instrumental heights and scream-at-the-top-of-your-lungs verses, working you up and pissing you off with equal verve. "Underwear", which follows, is arousing too, but differently so -- Cocker crooning lyrics practically dripping in sultry pathos. Let's face it: Jarvis Cocker is the Barry White of Britpop. "Something Changed", "Sorted for E's and Wizz", and "Disco 2000" also make appearances.

Missing from both the His 'N' Hers andDifferent Class material, though, is the surrealistic production that made Pulp's sound glitter and pop in their later years. This Is Hardcore was the introduction of this new hyperreal Pulp; "Help the Aged" is the introduction to this sound here. Though overall, This Is Hardcore was a somewhat surprising sonic departure for the band -- much more by way of fuzzy guitars and overexposed keyboards, clever effrontery descending into self-destructive belligerence -- the tracks on this compilation fall into place quite nicely. Still, sticking out like a hitchhiker's thumb -- or perhaps some other, naughtier part -- is "This Is Hardcore", the closest Pulp have ever gotten to soundtracking porn.

If anything sounds amiss on this compilation, it's the ending material from the kinder, gentler Pulp of We Love Life. Especially after the zeal of "Party Hard", "Trees" is an innocent and somewhat peculiar downer. It's a very pretty song, but demonstrates brazenly how much the band changed at the turn of the millennium. That, along with "Bad Cover Version" and "Sunrise", sounds almost like the sad aftermath to an especially raucous revelry, like the morning after where somebody wakes up dead.

Pulp are still here in this clean and sober territory today, it seems, as new song "Last Day of the Miner's Strike", demonstrates. The song is a low and determined soulful dirge, full of a mix of resignation and resolve. It's the story of people who tried to change things, and instead were changed -- or perhaps, the world changed faster than their circumstances could. Cocker ends the song with triumphant singing, though it's unclear if the battles exactly been won.

In some ways, maybe this song is an allegory for Pulp themselves. Pulp are a band that have grown from the tiniest whisper into the mightiest legend, a story that has changed dramatically over time, a tale whose appropriateness waxes and wanes dependent on context and conditions. They have both initiated trends and bucked them; been the most powerful and bombastic as well as the quietest and most demure. But overall, they have been an awesome, fearless, tragic, and utterly lovely site to behold. Pulp have a greatest hits record. And it's about goddamned time.

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still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton

9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

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8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

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7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge

6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

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