We Love Life
By: Eric Greenwood
After the dark, hedonistic downer that was 1998’s This Is Hardcore, Pulp returns with the most optimistic and, well, pleasant album of its career. We Love Life is so laid back and serene that it blends into the background, forcing repeated listenings just to absorb its languishing, leisurely melodies. Jarvis Cocker waxes philosophical with his usual brand of irony and ever-so-clever wordplay over lush arrangements that would be grand and imposing, if only they were played in a major key. With longtime idol Scott Walker producing, We Love Life trades Pulp’s characteristic risk-taking for smooth accessibility, which works a gray, rainy day magic over the proceedings.
The metaphorical use of nature throughout We Love Life reveals Pulp's complicated agenda. On one level the band is celebrating rebirth both musically and lyrically, but in the darker corners lurks Cocker's inevitably cynical side, where he can't help but compare the English working class to the common weed. The marching band-style backbeat is the perfect prelude to Cocker's celebratory chorus: "the weeds will grow in places you don't know" ("Weeds"). The follow-up, "Weeds II- The Origin Of The Species", sounds like soft-core porn music with twinkling keys, soaring voices, and a snaky, sinister bass line. Cocker talks over the entire song, and instead of making your skin crawl like most spoken-word invariably does; it actually sucks you into its ambient, hypnotic drone.
Avoiding anything even remotely current or trendy, Pulp wanders confidently through subtle atmospherics and light acoustic strummings. Cocker's innate pop sensibility envelops each song in unobtrusive melodies and his morbidly dry sense of humor: "Those useless trees produce the air that I'm breathing" ("Trees"). The twitching strings on "Trees" evoke Echo & The Bunnymen's classic Ocean Rain, and Cocker's listless baritone certainly recalls Ian McCulloch's trademark inflection. Epic tracks like "Wickerman" allow Cocker to spin wildly fanciful yarns, mixing a whispery spoken word style with his patented nasally croon.
Though less subtle than David Bowie or Madonna, Pulp has made a career out of reinvention, and We Love Life continues the band's unpredictable transformation from foppish art-wankers to learned cynics. "I Love Life" allows Cocker to flex what little muscle comprises that lanky frame. Cocker squeals, "you've got to fight to the death for the right to live your life" just before the music erupts into what has to be Pulp's noisiest moment on tape. The sudden charge of testosterone is as shocking as it is effective. It's Pulp's version of the Beastie Boys' "Fight For Your Right", except trade the frat-boy, beer-can-crushing charm for a silk ascot and a dirty martini and you'll be on the right track.
Cocker has few peers lyrically. His narratives are brainy and ponderous but explicitly detailed, and he's never afraid to stoop to the common curse word to punctuate a thought for the sake of his art. His band's ability to weave charismatic melodies beneath such twisted and imaginative vocal runs is second to none, and We Love Life epitomizes such ability. It's an album you have to participate in actively, as it will not reward the casual listener, but it's an exercise well worth the effort.