Music preview: Pulp

No band in the world combines acid intelligence and expansive rock bathos with such sublimity. Their new album, "We Love Life," proves it. Listen in.

Published September 30, 2002 9:19PM (EDT)

"We Love Life"

Out now on Rough Trade/Sanctuary

Some music mags have been touting Pulp's orchestral new album "We Love Life" as a departure into earnestness, but they haven't been listening. Pulp's Jarvis Cocker might be the most scathing songwriter we have, but his bloodletting wit has always worked in the service of an outsize passion -- the towering 1996 song "Common People" may have been a devastating takedown of slumming hipsters, but it was also a scream of anguish about dead-end working class life.

So "We Love Life" isn't a big change for Pulp, and that's an enormous relief, because there's no band in the world that combines acid intelligence and expansive rock bathos with such sublimity. The album is full of big, hook-heavy anthems, sometimes laden with strings and synths, but the music works in counterpoint to lyrics about the kind of scenes that, as Cocker sings on "I Love Life," "never get shown on TV." It's a record of desperate folk ballads rendered as glossy power pop.

"Weeds," the expansive opening track, has a sound of fist-pumping triumph, but it's a song about the world's displaced and invisible, and the words are shot through with resignation and despair: "Because we do not care to fight, my friends, we are the weeds. Because we got no homes they call us smelly refugees." Similarly, the gorgeous "The Night That Minnie Timperley Died" has the kind of soaring chorus that makes you want to blast it from a car stereo on a sun-drenched day. Listen closely, though -- it's a tale about a girl raped and killed on her way to a club.

The contrast between the majesty of the music and the sordidness of the stories isn't ironic, at least not in the smartass way that word usually indicates. Rather, Cocker's epic treatment rescues his subjects from sordid obscurity and gives them the melodramatic dignity they deserve.

Pulp: "Bad Cover Version"
Audio: Real Audio
Duration: 4:16

By Michelle Goldberg

Michelle Goldberg is a frequent contributor to Salon and the author of "Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism" (WW Norton).

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