An audacious choice as a single based on running time alone, the title track from Pulp’s 1998 album made an equally brazen choice for video. This is Hardcore, the album, is more than worthy of a post on its own – a dark, seedy exploration of the very things documented and partly celebrated on their breakthrough Different Class. This is Hardcore is the long, dead-eyed look in the mirror late at night when coming down. It’s an album of jaded, hard reflection and Pulp’s underrated masterpiece.
The title track takes the album’s themes and amplifies them. The narrator, speaking to his sexual partner, expresses his desire to “make a movie” and that they should “star in it together.” But it’s clear that this isn’t about desire, but manipulation, control and objectification as fantasy fulfillment. Our narrator’s ideas of sex clearly are rooted in lessons learned not at the hands of responsible parents or partners, but in front of the flickering, late night videos or computer screens of mainstream pornography. “I’ve seen all the pictures / I’ve studied them forever…that goes in there, and that goes in there, and that goes in there,” Jarvis Cocker repeats in a sing-songy, droning repetition, intimating the listless, mechanical nature of the acts his narrator so craves and desires. “But what exactly can you do for an encore,” he muses at the song’s close. Real life ceases to add up.
The song samples the Peter Thomas Sound Orchestra’s “Bolero On the Moon Rocks,” a piece that sounds like something out of the sexiest (and most X rated) Bond movie never made. It ends up being a musical call-back to the 70s era of ‘classy’ pornography, when porn films were screened to discriminating audiences in real movie theaters. Anyone growing up on a steady diet of this was bound to have an interesting perspective on their own sexuality.
And it’s here that the video explores the song’s themes by taking different visual cues. The whole video is set to resemble the filming process of a noir detective film and we see actors and actresses practicing their lines, stopping and starting on cue, shooting and re-shooting scenes. We see passion and vitality, anger and longing. “But then it’s over,” as Cocker sings. People turn these versions of themselves on and off at will, creating a fantasy for those watching – a commentary itself on the way the audience may turn around and attempt the same. The way our narrator has done just that.
When Cocker (that’s him as the detective, the mod hipster in the party and as the male center of the Rockettes’ style dance piece) finds himself in the midst of a dozen gorgeous but nearly identical and interchangeable women, it’s our narrator at the peak of his imaginary powers – surrounded by everything he’s ever craved, but not realizing that they’ve become nothing but objects. “It’s what men in stained raincoats pay for / but in here, it is pure.” Cocker’s narrator fancies himself above the rabble who would pay for such things – his partner is willing and real. But with the robotic view of the interaction (“I’ve seen this storyline played out so many times before”), is he really any better than those who pay for the thrill? Their objectification is obvious and owned; his is masked and just a touch more sinister. “‘Cause this is hardcore.” words/ j neas