Was Pulp’s ‘This is Hardcore’ the Death of Britpop?

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17 years after This is Hardcore hit number 1 in the album charts, it is time for a reappraisal.

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A lot of people credit Pulp’s penultimate 1998 masterpiece as the end of Britpop. A bleak and frightening death knoll that isn’t even the comedown after the party but the empty nothingness afterwards. That horrifying question ‘what the fuck happens next?’.
In truth though the opinion that This is Hardcore killed Britpop fits too neatly into a convenient narrative to really ring true. Blur had already released their self titled fifth album a year earlier which was a conscious step out of 60’s Britain and into lo fi Americana. Damon Albarn’s cheeky cockney persona (hard to believe that was ever a thing now) was long gone, replaced by collaborations with Brian Eno, songs about heroin (Beetlebum) and an album full of feedback and hushed vocals.

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Elsewhere in 1997 Oasis had released Be Here Now, another album people have cited as the ‘death of Britpop’, again this falls wide of the mark. Be Here Now was definitely (maybe?) the sound of the bubble bursting but it was still a huge critical success and was and is adored by legions of Oasis fans the world over.

The truth is there was no one moment or album that killed Britpop. It was an astonishing time for music in Britain that was never going to last. By the time This is Hardcore came out Oasis, Blur, Suede… they all sounded fed up. New Labour had been a lie. The trappings of fame (Blur), the continued weight of expectation and the first chink in the armour (Oasis) and the various addictions (Suede, Blur, Pulp, Oasis… pretty much every Britpop band come to think of it) had taken a huge toll and some could sense that we were entering a terrible period in British history not just for music but in every aspect of life.
This was captured most memorably on Radiohead’s masterpiece OK Computer but we’ll come back to that later…

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Back to Sheffield’s finest – Pulp’s 1995 classic Different Class was a monster hit and beloved by people in all walks of life. You will still hear Disco 2000 or Common People at wedding disco’s and indie clubs probably forever. It’s safe to say you won’t see your uncle dancing to anything off ‘This is Hardcore’ with wedding cake stains on his suit jacket however…

Album opener ‘The Fear’ is a paranoid and disturbing slice of mental illness. It is a jarring panic attack in song. ‘This is our music from a bachelors den, the sound of loneliness turned up to ten’ Jarvis gasps. Different Class opened with call to arms and single ‘Mis-Shapes’, it is difficult to think of two more contrasting songs by one band. Guitarist Mark Webber squeezes every trembling note out of his instrument in The Fear, much in the same way as Radiohead guitarist Johnny Greenwood plays on OK Computer. That is not the only link between the two albums. The paranoia, despair, and alienation of This is Hardcore make it an easy bedfellow to the dark and challenging OK Computer. The difference being that OK Computer sounds like a man falling apart but a band becoming stronger, This is Hardcore has no such redemption.

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Even in the more upbeat sounding second half of the album there is no break from the emptiness and ennui – ‘well I learned to drink and I learned to smoke and I learned to tell a dirty joke. If that’s all there is then there’s no point for me’ (I’m a Man), ‘Oh, he don’t care about your problems. He just wants to show his friends. I guess I’m just the same as him’ (Sylvia), ‘oh my face is unappealing and my thoughts are unoriginal.’ (Glory Days).

It is difficult to think of a more bleak album in modern music. Even Weezer’s Pinkerton, an album that shows a man disgusted and embarrassed by himself, has hints of a willingness to change amidst the frustration.

The truth is that Different Class (deservedly) receives all the plaudits but This is Hardcore is much more affecting and personal. ‘Dishes’ tells the story of a man who is bored and jaded with his life. TV movie compares the longing and suffering Cocker feels with crap made for TV movies ‘A movie made for TV: bad dialogue, bad acting, no interest.’

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‘A Little Soul’ sees the singer stepping into his father’s shoes for a brutally honest look at how Cocker shares most of his negative traits.

Even the three singles are all very odd choices for a commercial release (with the possible exception of Help the Aged which was actually written a good two years before anything else on This is Hardcore). The title track is a sleazy and unhinged 6 and half minute opus. If you thought Cocker was dirty on Different Class he lets himself run wild here. This is Hardcore drips with lust and danger and again is so far removed from the catchier singles from Different Class it shocked listeners on release. ‘Party Hard’ is the odd song out, a throwaway glam stomp that is by far the weakest song on the album.

In conclusion This is Hardcore was more the death rattle of an already moribund genre rather than the final nail in the coffin. It deserves to be remembered for so much more than being the end of Britpop.

Willow Creek – 6/10.

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Blair Bigfoot Project.

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I thought that director Bobcat Goldthwait’s 2011 film God Bless America was one of the most underrated films of the last five years so I was pretty excited about his first foray into horror.

Willow Creek sees a well acted and believable couple searching the North American woods for any evidence of the mythical creature Bigfoot. This is all shot using shaky but high quality found footage and being set in the woods invites all sorts of comparisons to the king of found footage movies The Blair Witch Project. To his credit Goldthwait does nothing to try and separate the two films instead accepting that two films about people becoming lost in the woods are inevitably going to evoke similar scenes. There are notable and important differences that set Willow Creek aside and stop it from just being a straight up Blair Witch rip off however. Firstly there is one really long, continuous, tension building scene that doesn’t appear to cut at any point that was quite unlike anything I have seen in horror before in terms of realism. Secondly there are definitely no fucking Bigfoots in The Blair Witch Project.

Making a horror film about Bigfoot is a pretty ballsy move seen as most people now think of the lovable sasquatch portrayed in Harry and the Hendersons rather than the terrifying humanoid image from the past. Unfortunately this risk doesn’t quite work out for Goldthwait. Even with a running time of less than 80 minutes the pay off isn’t worth the wait and a half hearted attempt at ambiguity at the end is not enough to save Willow Creek either.

An interesting piece of work from Goldthwait and worth watching for that one long scene I mentioned earlier but if you want to see a really messed up Bigfoot film then try Drawing Flies instead.

Guardians of the Galaxy – 8/10.

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Marvel takes a gigantic risk… and still remains triumphant.

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Guardians of the Galaxy is a straight up hard core Sci-Fi flick. Much more so than anything else on the Marvel roster. The only touchstone in the cinematic world would be DC comics Green Lantern which as we know was roundly hated by everybody. Directer James Gunn made his only critically acclaimed film four years ago with the admittedly brilliant SUPER and his only other work of note is 2006’s average horror/comedy Slither. Main star Chris Pratt has been roundly praised for his work in beloved TV comedy Parks and Recreation and has had a slew of impressive supporting roles but he has never been asked to carry a summer block buster of this magnitude or even anything close. Alongside Pratt, is a talking raccoon, a green woman, a giant alien and a talking tree that can only say his own name in the style of Hodor…

…Somehow against huge fucking odds and almost to the annoyance of everyone waiting for the ongoing Marvel worldwide domination to finally hit a glitch, Guardians of the Galaxy is a raging success. It is incredible for a franchise that has recently been criticised for the perceived lack of risks in sequels such as Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Iron Man 3 to spend so much money on a film with such a crazy concept and with such gigantic likelihood of failure.

After I managed to separate Pratt from his famous TV counterpart Andy Dwyer (Parks & Rec) I really enjoyed his performance. His blend of cockiness and humour with heroism and strength is almost Han Solo-esque (!). The two major CGI characters (again a raccoon and tree for fucks sake) are actually high points rather than annoying hindrances and the action sequences, particularly in the last half an hour, are genuinely stunning.

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The soundtrack is really solid, the acting is flawless and consistent and visually Guardians of the Galaxy is the best film I have seen in the last year. Director James Gunn has also framed things very nicely for a sequel rather than shoe horning something half arsed in at the lost moment.

At this point after the ridiculous success of Guardians of the Galaxy it seems like Marvel can do absolutely nothing wrong. If they can bring together all these bizarre components and have the balls to turn it into a successful summer blockbuster they can do anything.

IMDB TOP 250 #198

NOMINATED FOR 2 OSCARS

Selma – 7/10.

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The opinion that the famously white, wealthy and male Oscar committee are favourable towards historical films that might alleviate their guilt about being white, wealthy and male is a well trodden path. Martin Luther King biopic Selma obviously fits the bill perfectly.

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In the past we have had the powerful (In the Name of the Father, Schindler’s List), the boring if well acted history lesson (Lincoln), the forgettable lead performance in an otherwise solid film (12 Years a Slave) and the downright Oscar bait shit (The Help). So in which camp does Selma fall? Unfortunately there are arguments for all of them. There is no doubting that their are powerful moments in this film but considering the subject matter that is no big surprise. There are also long stretches where not much is happening. As with 12 Years A Slave the support cast is good, particularly Tom Wilkinson as president Lyndon Johnson, but aside from the admittedly electrifying speeches I found David Oyelowo as MLK a little bland and lacking in emotion. I am sorry to add as well that director Ava DuVernay chooses to forego letting the gravitas of the story provide the emotional wallop in favour of a completely out of place and totally rubbish power ballad for the climatic scene. It is cringe inducing and quite frankly embarrassing.

Selma is by no means a bad film but it’s two Oscar nominations are two too many in my opinion.

Before Sunrise 7/10.

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Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy talk. And talk. And then talk some more. For 105 minutes.

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Before Sunrise seems to be hugely critically acclaimed as its placing in the hallowed IMDB top 250 will attest to but I don’t get what all the fuss is about to be honest. As with another film I didn’t ‘get’ Lost in Translation, there seems to be a lot of people who feel some kind of profound connection to Before Sunrise that I just don’t see.

Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy bump into each other on a train to Paris and end up spending the day together in Vienna. Lots of long and philosophical dialogue ensues in the vein of Cameron Crowe or Kevin Smith at his best. While the chemistry between Hawke and Delpy is both tangible and undeniable there isn’t enough character development or plotting to keep things interesting and that prevented me from feeling invested in the characters.

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The soundtrack is forgettable which is disappointing for a Linklater film as normally he does well in that aspect of things. It is safe to say that Before Sunrise is much closer to Boyhood than it is to School of Rock or Dazed and Confused when speaking in terms of Linklater’s output as it is a character study where not much happens. The difference between Linklater’s recent Oscar nominee Boyhood and Before Sunrise I suppose is a matter of opinion, I connected to Boyhood completely even though not a great deal happens but I was disinterested in the outcome here.

Some people obviously love this film but it didn’t really do anything for me.

IMDB TOP 250 #212

Dear Mr. Watterson 7/10 and Harmontown – 8.5/10.

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Two documentaries that champion art over commercialism.

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Mr. Watterson is Bill Watterson the creator of much loved comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. As Watterson is legendarily reclusive there are no interviews with him and barely any archive footage so instead we have extensive interviews with fans, people in the comic industry and celebrity talking heads like Seth Green. It was nice for me to hear people speak with such passion and excitement about Calvin and Hobbes, as one of my happiest childhood memories involves me reading my C & H anthology surrounded by Pic ‘n’ Mix in the sunshine…

What I found most interesting about Dear Mr. Watterson was the revelation that Watterson has never allowed Calvin & Hobbes to be licenced thus preventing any C & H toys or cartoons or anything else. This moral stance has cost Watterson millions of dollars and has stopped his creation reaching the level of popularity achieved by Garfield or Snoopy.

This brings us neatly to Harmontown which follows Community creator Dan Harmon on his tour across America promoting his eponymous podcast.

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Like Watterson, Harmon has been fired from numerous projects (including Community for one season before being re-hired) for his refusal to change who he is and also because of his constant quest for honesty and perfection in his writing.

Harmontown is a brutally honest portrayal of a man trying to overcome his problems with alcoholism and a difficult upbringing by connecting with his fans and trying to help others with similar problems. As well as extensive live footage of the tour and behind the scenes extras there is also illuminating interviews with celebrities who have worked with Harmon including Jack Black, Sarah Silverman, Ben Stiller and of course the cast of Community.

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The whole message of the show Community was there is a place for anti social loners amongst each other and Harmontown takes this notion to the next level with Harmon and his fellow podcaster Jeff Davis playing to packed out venues night after night of misfits, dungeons and dragons enthusiasts and people who have nowhere else to go.

I found Harmontown to be much more true, funny, and honest than any episode of Community and I have a new found respect for Dan Harmon and his work.

Both these documentaries are proof that there are still people out there producing art with meaning and both these films pour scorn on anybody who is too stuck up to accept that comic strips and comedy writing are just as much of an art form as anything else.

Cropsey 6/10 and Killer Legends 7.5/10

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Director Joshua Zeman explores the dark side of the urban legends in a pair of chilling documentaries.

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Cropsey is the sad and intriguing story of five missing children in the Staten Island area of New York City. The local folklore states that disused tunnels beneath an abandoned mental hospital housed a child murderer and various other unspeakable horrors. Upon examination Zeman and co director Barbara Brancaccio discover this is more than just a fable. Without wanting to spoil anything Cropsey is an interesting and dark film that also includes some truly disturbing footage of an expose on mental hospital Willowbrook from 1972.

Cropsey was Zeman’s first feature and he doesn’t seem to have enough material to cover the 84 minute running time so a lot of the footage is repeated. This story could have been covered in a 45 minute TV show rather than a feature film but it is still a decent watch.

Five years later Zeman returns with another spine chilling film Killer Legends. Taking apart four of the most well known urban myths (hook handed psychopath at Lovers Lane, poisoned Halloween candy, the babysitter receives a call from inside the house and the killer clown) and turning the ‘myths’ on their head to expose the terrible truth behind each of them.

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Zeman has clearly learnt a lot in the five years between films as Killer Legends is much better put together, much more interesting and is genuinely one of the most creepy documentaries I have ever seen.

Most people will be familiar with notorious serial killer John W. Gacy so that is the only segment that falls a bit flat but the rest of the film had me on the edge of my seat with it’s part crime part horror angle. Zeman and researcher Rachel Mills decide to put themselves in front of the camera which is something that has grated on me with people like Michael Moore and Nick Broomfield but Zeman and Mills let the stories tell themselves without trying to become the centre of attention.

For anyone interested in the dark and the macabre I would recommend both but if you are just looking for an interesting and well directed documentary Killer Legends will not disappoint.