They changed their tune, didn’t they? After a despondent, feral showcase on culture-defining This is Hardcore, Pulp find themselves deep in nature and guided by Scott Walker. Not a bad place to be for one last album. Jarvis Cocker and company rallied around for one last shot at whatever it was they wanted to prove to themselves. Britain had moved on from their towering achievements and while most bands had too, their aimlessness at the turn of the century proved troublesome, contractually obligated. Even then they settle into colloquial tenses and utilise Richard Hawley well, the Sheffield legends coming together to give what may have been an accidental swansong that builds and builds with time to say farewell on their teams.
Hits did follow but that was no album. The Last Day of the Miners’ Strike is a neat addition to give reason to purchase it, but it was no select for We Love Life. As close to a so-called “singles album” as Pulp ever got, the real treats for this are Bad Cover Version and Sunrise. The former, a knock at the woebegone pop culture appearances of legends in the industry, the latter an explosive instrumental select that showcases the band could get heavy and hard-hitting without Cocker’s lyrical expertise. That much is clear throughout We Love Life, although spotty on The Trees and its toothless environmentalism. Perplexingly simple for an album that has late-stage deep cuts like The Night That Minnie Timperley Died and Birds in Your Garden. Cocker on acoustic guitar, barely a note surrounding him until those chorus build-ups, it makes for a love song filled with metaphor and sexualised inflictions.
Hawley certainly holds some sway over this one. From the rise and rise of opening track Weeds to the defiant lap steel on Sunrise. His inclusion is a smart one and provided the launch of a great solo career. Cocker and company are massaged well by Walker, whose hand in the production studio points toward naturalism, nature and a cooling off period the band were clearly clamouring for after intentionally torpedoing the glitz and glam of the 1990s. They hold their excess to account on Weeds and drive casually into Weeds II (The Origin of the Species), a “true story of the weeds”. Pulp does get bogged down in that cultivation but manages to steer themselves back to what The Professional had mocked just a few years before Bob Lind and Roadkill were striking out.
Revel in the lushness. Those strings and jagged electronics. The floating, delicate beauty of the backing vocals on Weeds II (The Origin of the Species). Pulp may turn toward Cocker Backing Band on this one, but their relaxation and change in tone to sultry mixtures and a legend (openly mocked on Bad Cover Version) in the studio, appears to have the desired effect. Coast on out. A legacy is behind them. Their revolution was televised, why not have a soft swansong? It moves them from those nights of suburbia, from the sex-clad cobbles of Sheffield and into a broader, imageless momentum. Mellow and autumnal, Pulp proves they can shake themselves up with instrumental changes, particularly the incredibly important percussion consistencies Nick Banks provides and the step-up Mark Webber makes. As far as finality goes, We Love Life is not the worst way to say goodbye.