Saturday, 13 July 2013

SINGLE: Pulp - Party Hard (1998)

UK - Island CID719 (CD single - no vinyl release originally)

1998 found Pulp at a difficult point in their career. After the massive success of the "Different Class" album, the band suddenly found themselves catapulted into the limelight after 12 years of working hard to get there. The intense rush of the last two years must have been mentally exhausting. Some examples...

There was that era-defining Top Of The Pops appearance when "Common People" peaked at number 2, cruelly held off by Robson & Jerome (even then, Simon Bloody Cowell had a lot to answer for).. The media may have been full of the Oasis Vs Blur chart battle,  but this was the defining moment for me. As the whole BritPop hype machine rolled into overdrive, idealising the working class, here was Jarvis Cocker to prick the party balloon and tell it like it was, warts and all.

Then, the media got into a tizzy when "Sorted For E's And Wizz" came out. "Ban This Sick Stunt!" stormed the Daily Mirror, calling for the single to be banned, without even hearing it. It wasn't a pro-drugs song by any means, but that wasn't going to stop their correspondent Kate Thornton going on her little crusade... Meanwhile, pre-orders of the record alone ensured another number 2 hit, held off this time by Simply Red's "Fairground" (spare us, please - surely one of the most badly, tinnily mixed rackets to hit the top spot ever? But, I digress...)

And then... there was that moment at the 1996 Brit Awards, as Jarvis took to the stage whilst Michael Jackson, surrounded by small children, performed "Earth Song". I thought that Jarvis appeared to be miming the act of fanning a fart from his backside as a critical comment on either the performance (which may have been interpreted as somewhat self aggrandising) or the record (which, if I'm being charitable, wasn't exactly one of Jackson's best efforts), or both. You decide...

Jarvis was carted off to the local police station, but freed without charge. The Daily Mirror did a total U-turn with a "Justice for Jarvis" campaign. Melody Maker suggested he should be given a knighthood. Pulp's record sales went even higher.

The worrying thing for a Pulp fan at this point was that Jarvis was being seen now as something of a court jester, and his personal life seemed to be falling apart as a long term relationship ended and a drug habit developed. Longtime member Russell Senior quit. Expectations around the next album were massive.

"This Is Hardcore" hit the shops in March 1998, to a market already a little underwhelmed by late '97's taster single "Help The Aged". Cocker's disillusionment with his long wished for fame is the very backbone of the album, and results in a much darker and challenging piece of work. Tellingly, whilst it entered the UK album chart at number one, it didn't stick around anywhere near as long as its predecessor, and the accompanying singles weren't the expected smash hits. The new fans who had joined the ride in full flow decided to get off at the next stop.

All of which brings us to "Party Hard", and if I appear to have been waffling thus far, it's because all of the above context is critical in understanding where Jarvis' head was at when writing the song. After the two year party, this is his hangover. With a sore head, and as buzzing guitars battle with dance synth squiggles, he reflects on the emptiness and futility of the long night before, and it's genuinely sad as he ends with the repeated refrain, "When the party's over will you come home with me?"

In a double-tracked vocal, Jarvis Cocker impersonating David Bowie duets with Jarvis Cocker impersonating Scott Walker. It's quite unlike anything else in Pulp's catalogue. Jarvis' dark night of the soul over with, Walker himself would produce their next and, for me best album, "We Love Life".

Released as the fourth single from "This Is Hardcore" in September '98, presumably in a last ditch attempt by Island to boost album sales, "Party Hard" stalled at number 29.


This Is Hardcore (Island 1998)
Pulp Hits (Island 2002)

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