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Pulp – Background Noise Review

You’re not working if you’re not risking. Pulp trialling new material on this return tour should be no surprise – Blur did it, Suede did it. Even Black Grape did it. A retrial of the 1990s heyday under the banner term Britpop is a sign the grass is still green. So it should be, and Background Noise, a solid name and a nice ploy to get those uninterested involved as they search for low-fi beats to bring about study, is a risk worth taking. Footage and audio of the track is available – and though it may not have the studio polish just yet – its first foray into the wild public is a welcome one. The nerves are clear as Jarvis Cocker launches himself up onto the footholds – those same jitters which were subdued by the Flamenca clapping of the After You debut performance. 

Debuted at the Corona Capital 2023, Background Noise is as focused as it gets – unlike the fuzzy background and cutout of Cocker which bring about a backdrop for ringing ears and forgetting the first time. Neat references to the His ‘n’ Hers days are featured, the gasping interjections which catapulted Pulp to their place at the top of the musical plinth, are all found within. Background Noise feels closer to the glory days than After You – though the latter explored the We Love Life leftovers. Whether Background Noise is completely fresh and inspired or taken from earlier tapes is neither here nor there, there is new Pulp music for the first time in a decade. It sounds as great as expected. 

Lyrics of wistful and hopeful progression, the dying embers of a relationship turned sour and moved to the side to make way for growth elsewhere. Background Noise presents a tender Pulp track – closer to the likes of their acoustic and love-oriented drives but without the sexiness. Cocker has ditched it almost entirely, though there are still some assertions throughout this string-supported piece. Transitioning sex and love into this titular background noise, the fear of missing out or weighing up the radioactive response to toxic energies from those who pass us by, is a mature play from Pulp. It is not the lustful longing of old but a fear of the honeymoon phase turning into those mindless drones which dominate the background and soon become lost to the rest of the noise in dingy flats with bust-up fridges.  

Adorned in a lime green suit and giving the Mexico crowd a tease of new material – the first in over a decade – Cocker and Pulp are back with a bang. They have not missed a beat. The best usually don’t. Crucial it is to separate the solo work of Cocker and the band who made such a route possible, Background Noise is, stylistically and thematically, a Pulp song through and through. Who knows what the next steps are for Pulp. With Background Noise and Hymn of the North, rumours will swirl. Hopes will rise of new material, of a new album somewhere down the line. Suede and Blur did it in successive years. Why not Pulp? The consequences of a proper album run are lofty, but it can be done. Background Noise may be the firing pistol which starts a whole new period of Pulp. 

Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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