After the Party – This is Hardcore

I’m not a party person.

I don’t understand why you would want to go somewhere where there isn’t Haribo, Netflix and your own record collection and where there are people you don’t know and whose confidence, drunken joviality, popularity and good looks will serve only to highlight your own shyness, misery, awkwardness and ugly mug when you could stay at home where there IS Haribo, Netflix and your own records and where the only other people are the ones whom you have carefully selected because of their ability to tolerate your myriad defects. I’ve never understood it. Ever.

The only party I’ve ever been a party to was Britpop and that was mainly because I was able to enjoy it from the privacy of my own bedroom…alone…or in the equally private confines of a gig where I was just another face in the crowd.

Perfect.

By the time we had all discovered that, actually, things couldn’t only get better and that the new dawn promised by New Labour was probably just more of the same but with a minimum wage it was 1998 and the Britpop party had moved past the stage where the last drunken stragglers were boarding the night bus home and had reached the stage where you are heaving a comatosed stranger into the back of a cab while simultaneously trying not to think about the exact nature of the stain in the middle of your sitting room carpet.

It wasn’t pretty.

I don’t have a single memory of my life between 1992 and 1997 where the sun isn’t shee-ine-ing. I don’t remember owning a coat never mind wearing one. I have no recollection of being cold. I can’t even picture a puddle following a shower. Sunlight bathed the golden glow (thanks Lawrence) and everything seemed good in the world. Nothing ever lasts forever though and so 1998 seemed to mark the moment when reality bit…leaving more than just a scratch.

No record better captures the post-Britpop fug better than “This is Hardcore”.

It starts, as every new day does, with “The Fear”.

Despite paying a sort of respect to Paul Daniels with the line “You’re gonna like it, but not a lot” the truth is that the only magic in evidence here is of the very darkest sort as Cocker seems to be giving voice to the thoughts that surface most frequently as I lay in bed…and drive in the car…and walk to the shops…

Loneliness turned up to ten…no matter how many people I’m with.

Losing the plot…even though I’m smiling.

Making out I’m OK…when I promise you I’m not.

I can’t even define what it is that I’m frightened of.

Searching for some kind of life…not just an existence.

“The Fear” gives me the fear.

“The Fear” makes me feel less afraid…someone else obviously feels this way too.

Fame, from the outside, looks like the most wonderful thing.

Everything glitters.

There’s gold against your soul twenty four hours a day.

Glamour.

Glitz.

Adoration.

Love?

It’s all yours for the taking. No, you’re not taking…you’re accepting because it’s all being flung at you.

The truth is, I think, very different. I’ve been close to one or two people who were on the subs bench for the Z list of celebrity…even that level of not quite fame has a very unsettling effect on people. They were never really able to return to being themselves…they were “on” all of the time. They also suffered from never being told anything honest…hangers on, industry people, fans simply threw relentless praise at them and accepted any unacceptable behaviour from them. That, I think, is unhealthy.

I’ll tell you who I’m talking about when we meet up at Star Shaped.

“Dishes” seems to suggest that I’m right in my analysis of fame with J.C declaring that he’s not that J.C. There was a religious fervour attached to a lot of the main players in Britpop; Damon Albarn and his angelic face, Liam Gallagher as the saviour of rock and roll and Jarvis himself as Christ in the temple chasing out the money lenders when he rushed the stage at the Brits during Michael Jackson’s own Jesus act…if you listen to the audio of that event carefully you can actually hear Jarvis saying “In my fathers house?” as he wiggles his bottom.

jarvis-cocker-BRIT
Jarvis chases a false God from the Temple of pop!

Party Hard” is a song that’s been dipped in so much sleaze that it could be a guest on Jeremy Kyle. It’s the dark side of fame writ large. When Jarvis states within the first line that he “…used to try very hard to make friends with everyone on the planet” you know that this is a song about the difference between the public perception of fame and the bitter reality of it. There’s meaningless sex with men shedding their “…load on your best party frock“, the relentless demands of the public “Just get on the floor and show me what you’re made of” and the shallow nature of showbiz friendships “I’m here whenever you need me and whenever you need me I won’t be here“. There is no need to have experienced fame to be able to relate to any of this of course…bad sex, people making unreasonable demands of you and hollow half-friendships are common currency for anyone who has a heart. That’s the genius of Cocker…making the extraordinary, ordinary and the ordinary extraordinary.

By the time “This is Hardcore” was released we were all a little older…in my case I was just about to turn 25 which now seems sooooooo young but which, at the time, seemed so very old. A quarter of a century. I was older than my dad had been when he became a parent. I was soon to be married. I had finished my degree. I had a full time job. I wasn’t in a band any more. I was…a grown up. It was awful. All of it.

Jarvis was a decade older. At thirty five he was, really, a middle-aged man. He had spent the last five years at parties, taking drugs, being adored, prancing and dancing, wiggling his bottom and baring his soul to millions of strangers. It’s not a normal existence.  He had partied hard and now, one couldn’t help but feel, he was questioning whether it had really been worth it.

That idea of time wasted, of the link between the highs of fame and the realities of normality run through “Help the Aged” too.  It’s title may play like a novelty record but, once again, there are grand themes and big questions lurking at its heart.  “Try to forget that nothing lasts forever” could well have been the mantra of the Britpop generation, whether famous or not most of us got lost in the giddy thrills of those years.  The very idea that old age, or indeed any age other than the one we were, was looming seemed impossible.  “Funny how it all falls away…” except it’s not really all that funny.  The passing of time and all of its sickening crimes is a painful thing to experience…the boundless energy, relentless positivity, carefree abandon and full head of hair has all gone and been replaced by tiredness, cynicism, worry and male pattern baldness.

Just me?

Fair enough.

Title track “This is Hardcore” is as sleazy and sordid musically and lyrically as the title suggests.  A rumination on the transactional nature of sex in the nineties…and on.  It’s a lust song.  Love replaced by the dull ache of desire for desires sake.  I think that it’s also a song with something to say about the burgeoning “I just wanna be famous” culture that was beginning to place the nations youth in a vice like grip…Fame Academy, Pop Stars, X-Factor, Britains Got Talent et al have all made fame for fames sake seem like a career option.  The idea of being good, producing art, having something to say, leaving your mark, inspiring others…all replaced by a Christmas number one and a few years of switching on the Christmas lights in your home town.  “That goes in there…and then its over…what exactly do you do for an encore?

“T.V Movie” though is a very different beast, it’s a bona fide hymn to love faded and passed away.  Full of yearning and desire with a pulse it’s the song we would all like to have written to the first girl/boy we ever loved and who only loved us back for long enough to just make us love them even more.  “Is it a kind of weakness to miss someone this much?“, well of course its not.  Missing someone the way that Jarvis describes in this song is the thing that makes love, real love, so special and worth fighting for.  It’s a perfect companion piece to “A Little Soul” which follows it.  Another love song…love that has been lost, misplaced or discarded by someone who didn’t know quite what they had until it had gone.  Is it possible that it’s a father talking to a son…that might be a bit literal, too literal, but the “You look like me, but you’re not like me I hope” line does make you think that there is some relationship between the character at the heart of the song and the younger man he’s addressing.  Cocker is a people watcher, he looks and he listens…that’s why his songs seem so honest and so familiar to we common people.

I hope Jarvis gave serious consideration to suing Morrissey when he first heard “I’m Not a Man” from “World Peace is None of Your Business”.  In Cockers version he wonders what the point of being a “man” is if all it amounts to is fags, booze, cars and, well, not much else really.  He seems disappointed, disconnected and disturbed by these tired tropes of masculinity.  “Please can I ask why we’re alive…” he asks and, to be honest, if life is made up of those things then I’m not sure there is a satisfactory answer.  Morrissey asks the same questions…just fifteen years after Jarvis.

Sex is natural.

Sex is good.

Not everybody does it.

But everybody should.

Damn, that’s good…I’m very pleased with that.  Should be the lyrics to a song.

George who?

Oh, right.

Bugger.

I knew it sounded familiar.

Anyway, darling George was right and the character at the heart of “Seductive Barry” agrees with him.  He loves a bit of the other and he’s very keen to let you in on every intimate detail of the love scene he’s about to act out.  That love scene appears to feature some lucky chap who has landed a night of passion with the object of his desires…or alternatively it’s about some poor bloke who is pleasuring himself while looking at a poster of a scantily clad lay-dee.  You decide.

“Sylvia” would have been perfectly at home with some of the folks who inhabited the songs on “His ‘n’ Hers” some four years earlier.  A girl who is settling…the wrong boys, the wrong town, the wrong everything.  It’s a sad song.  An all too familiar tale.  Young women who have had their dreams quashed, their wants and needs pushed into the background and their hopes and desires relegated by small town minds, old fashioned attitudes and goodness knows what else.  But Jarvis won’t have it…”Keep believin‘” he implores her from the sidelines.  Let’s all pray for Sylvia.

A fanfare for the common man arrives with “Glory Days”.  Unfulfilled potential and wasted days are writ large on the faces of the kids in the song.  Hanging out in cafes, genius unrealised through apathy, astronauts in the making who clean toilets instead…they could do anything, if only they could be bothered.  Despite a jaunty tune driving things along it is, at its heart, another achingly sad song.  I reckon I’m one of those kids now…wrong choices at the wrong time, an inability/unwillingness to stretch myself and now my astronaut days are behind me.  Tragic innit.

The meek shall inherit absolutely nothing at all” is the line that sums up the end of the Britpop era and the end of the party better than any other.  “The Day After the Revolution” may, or may not, be a nod to the New Labour election victory of 1997.  What seemed like a genuinely revolutionary moment in British history…the end of 18 years of a deeply unpopular government, the promise of Blair, Cool Britannia, Noel in number ten…was already beginning to seem like another false dawn.  Of course none of us knew quite how far away from the promise of those days the New Labour project would drift but the idea that things could only get better was already seeming unlikely.

It’s very possible that “This is Hardcore” is the full stop on the Britpop story.  While other albums came and new bands emerged it’s hard not to look back now and see that the greatest moment in British pop and pop culture history was over as soon as the needle lifted at the end of this album.

 

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