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Friday, 19 October, 2001, 12:25 GMT 13:25 UK
Pulp's new lease of life
Pulp ride back into town with their first album in four years
By BBC News Online's Nigel Packer

Few bands embody the heady days of the mid-90s as perfectly as Pulp.

During the brief reign of Cool Britannia, Blur and Oasis were the brashest kids in the Britpop class - but Jarvis Cocker was its most eloquent spokesman.

Whether leading a mass rendition of Common People at the Glastonbury Festival or bursting Michael Jackson's egocentric bubble with his infamous stage invasion at the Brit Awards, Jarvis summed up a period in pop history when the good guys seemed to be winning for a change.

Then it all went pear-shaped. Guitarist/violinist Russell Senior left the band, and the brave but gloomy This Is Hardcore proved to be a far cry from the zeitgeist-capturing pleasures of Different Class.

Jarvis Cocker - the eloquent spokesman of Britpop
Jarvis never felt comfortable with Pulp's chart-conquering success
In the long silence that followed, it started to feel increasingly like a jaded farewell note.

Yet almost four years later they are back - traipsing over the horizon like long-lost prodigal sons, and leaving everyone wondering how they will fare in the strange, sterile world of 21st Century pop.

After all, the era they helped define has already become the stuff of TV nostalgia shows, so how can they possibly still fit in?

The answer, of course, is that they don't - which is exactly how they like it and the very reason that We Love Life is such an inspirational comeback.

Even at the height of his fame Jarvis was singing about misfits, and in truth he never felt comfortable with the chart-conquering success that arrived after years spent on the fringes of the music business.

Now he's back where he is happiest - in the role of perennial outsider.

The band sound raunchier than before
Like its predecessor, We Love Life offers an essentially stark view of the world - but the load is lightened by plenty of humour and some grand, sweeping melodies.

Jarvis has always had a taste for a musical melodrama - like the album's producer and long-time Cocker hero Scott Walker - and here it is given a free rein.

Lyrically, too, he remains one of the most original voices around.

Wickerman, with its spoken-word narrative, is a journey through a bleak urban dreamscape, and more of a short story than a song.

And the wit is sharper than ever on Bad Cover Version, during which a bitter ex-boyfriend dismisses his replacement as a "sad imitation" of the real thing ("Like a later Tom & Jerry when the two of them could talk/Like the Stones since the 80s/Like the last days of Southfork").

Opening track Weeds and its lengthy coda Weeds II (Origin Of The Species) signal the breadth of Cocker's ambition - drawing together a range of themes from the plight of refugees to genetically-modified crops.

And the rest of the band - sounding raunchier than before - match every elegant turn of phrase, from the relentless marching snare beat which dominates the opening section to the weightless, trance-like finish.

Disturbing undercurrents

Elsewhere, we get quirky pastoral love songs (The Trees) and tongue-in-cheek parodies of satin-shirted crooners (Birds In Your Garden).

But the album also has its dark and disturbing undercurrents, most notably on the deceptively melodic pop song The Night That Minnie Timperley Died.

We Love Life loses steam a little in the second half, despite the epic closing flourish of Sunrise, and stops short of the full-blown triumph it could have been.

But its arrival will come as a welcome relief to fans deprived for too long of Pulp's intelligence and flair.

We Love Life (Universal Island) is released on Monday 18 October.

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