Despite the title’s pronoun “We,” Pulp has always been and always will be Jarvis Cocker’s band, so much that it might as well be “I Love Life.” And despite the title’s grandiosity, it’s rather fitting, especially when you consider the parting words of the closer of Pulp’s previous This Is Hardcore, “The Day After The Revolution,” “Now we decided not to die after all.” On This Is Hardcore, I wrote that it sounded like Cocker was going through a midlife crisis of sorts, convincing younger girls to shag him and starring the lead male role in a porn flick to a pervading sense of regret throughout the entire album. We Love Life is sort of a continuation on that theme, Cocker reaching 38 years of age, and it’s Pulp’s soberest record yet, finally coming down off of the E’s and Wizz. Sober–you’d expect “Bad Cover Version” to explode into being after that brief intro, but it doesn’t.
But despite the natural trajectory of We Love Life, it also ends Pulp’s discography on an unremarkable whimper. Those who wanted the grandiose Britpop sound of His ‘n’ Hers and Different Class leave with nothing, those who wanted a continuation of the dark masterpiece This Is Hardcore leave with nothing. But it’s to be expected, especially when Pulp switched producer Chris Thomas (who had worked with the Beatles on The White Album, Roxy Music, and produced both of Pulp’s preceding classics) with Scott Walker. I suppose the choice is in some ways natural, considering the similarities between some Pulp songs (ie. “Something Changed”) and Scott Walker’s 60’s albums, but I can’t help but feel that some of these tracks either don’t work because of Cocker or because of Walker.
Take opener “Weeds,” for instance, which might be Pulp’s worst opener since their innocuous beginnings as an unknown band before 94’s His ‘n’ Hers. It begins fine enough, that muscular, acoustic sound and the stomping percussion from Nick Banks, and for the first ten seconds, it’s great. What ruins it, something that I’ve never said before in my life, is Jarvic Cocker. His lyricism has regressed. He tackles the exact same subject matter he did on 1995, but his voice and lyrics simply do not work here. “My friends, we are the weeds / Because we got no homes they call us smelly refugees,” sounds like a mediocre re-writing of “Mis-Shapes” and “Common People,” and the chorus just never takes off like it could/should/would have. The track simply ends shortly after, and we’re thrown into the most experimental, trip-hop-influenced track of the bunch, “Weeds II (The Origin of Species),” but it’s nothing we haven’t heard before (or done better) by the band themselves. I suppose the whispered, sinister “Come on, do your dance / Come on, do your funny little dance,” works, but that’s only seconds out of 4-minutes worth of sludge.
And therein lies the problem with We Love Life; we’ve heard it all before, and we’ve heard it better. The band, ironically, have become a “Bad Cover Version” of themselves. I’ve heard those climbing backing vocals on “Weeds” done better on “The Fear.” I’ve heard that held “OH YEAHHHHH!” of “The Night That Mannie Timperley Died” done better on “F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E.” I’ve heard the spoken word of “Weeds II (The Origin of the Species)” done better on “I Spy.” I’ve heard those string arrangements (that Scott Walker has done so impressively before on Scott 4) of “The Trees” on “Something Changed.” Okay, so musically, they’re retreading familiar territory, which is a shame, considering how much they evolved from Different Class to This Is Hardcore, which showed a band that was willing to evolve past the Britpop parameters that they found themselves in. Fine, I’ll accept that safety is never inherently a bad thing, but where was the man? Where was the man who was telling us how he was fucking our wife and he just wanted us to come home unexpectedly one afternoon and catch them at it? Where was Jarvis Cocker’s unrepressed sexuality? I guess at 38, Cocker either grew tired of sex, or maybe he had too much of it on This Is Hardcore, but sex is hardly a subject matter at all on We Love Life, which begs the question, if sex isn’t, than what exactly is Cocker singing about here? What exactly is he going on about on “Wickerman?” Why is that track 8 minutes long? I have too many unanswered questions.
On the matter of sex, “The Birds in Your Garden” is a good one, but it comes in way too late in the album to save the album. It’s one of the few songs here, along with “The Trees” and “Bad Cover Version,” that actually boasts a singable chorus, and here, finally, we see Jarvis Cocker having a bit of fun. The narrator of the song can’t bring himself to have sex with the girl, whose house he spends the night in, so he steps outside and hear’s the birds telling him, “”Take her now. Don’t be scared, it’s alright / Oh, come on, touch her inside / It’s a crime against nature – she’s been waiting all night / […] Come on and give it to her.” On “The Birds in Your Garden,” Cocker notes, “I just liked the idea of birds, which are supposed to be nice sweet creatures, kind of acting in a slightly yobbish way, and saying “get in there my son”. I thought it was quite a nice idea.” It was a nice idea, Cocker, I just wish you had more of them.
Thankfully, the album’s best track “Bad Cover Version” comes in to save the day. Listen to those female backing vocals at the 1:30 mark, that echo that continuous 3-note riff. Exciting and operatic, isn’t it? Then why the hell don’t they come back? Regardless, it’s still a good track, where Cocker’s sense of humour finally shines through in the track’s closing sentiments. He makes a punch against the Rolling Stones and Scott Walker, “Like the Stones since the 80’s […] The second side of Til The Band Comes In […] He’s going to let you down, my friend,” and it’s probably the one piece of lyrical genius on the album. The song also boasts a chorus that really lets Cocker’s climaxing voice room to move, “And every touch reminds you of just how sweet it could have been / And every time he kisses you, you get the taste of saccharine.” Oh, good Cocker-couplets, how I’ve missed you so. In addition, “Bad Cover Version”’s opening lyric, “The word’s on the street; you’ve found someone new / If he looks nothing like me, I’m so happy for you,” reminds me of the climax of “Babies” from His ‘n’ Hers, the “I know you won’t believe it’s true, I went with her because she looks like you!”
“Roadkill” and “Sunrise” are mellowed-out numbers that follow “Bad Cover Version.” “Sunrise” ends the track on a good enough note, thankfully, due to one of the few memorable riffs on the album, as well as Cocker’s “Used to hate the sun because it shone on everything I’d done / Make me feel that all that I had done was overfill the ashtray of my life” – basically everything Cocker has been trying to say this entire album and finally saying it without a lousy plant metaphor (Can we ask it here? What the hell is that album cover?). That outro is damn fine, too.