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Jarvis Cocker and crew re-emerge with a sequel to 1995’s Different Class, with which Pulp finally escaped from the basement of British pop, where they had languished for a decade. Those expecting a reprise of that album, however, may get huffy over changes in both the mood and music. This Is Hardcore is darker and more introspective than its predecessor. It’s a brave gamble, and one that pays off with a challenging but ultimately rewarding album. While it may be short on radio- friendly pop hits, the music slowly inserts itself into your psyche. The opening track, “The Fear,” laments “the sound of loneliness turned up to ten”; the song soars with shades of David Bowie of Hunky Dory vintage. The mood turns less chipper from there, as Cocker, no longer the swinger, “stays home and does the dishes.” He’s lost some of his youthful invincibility, and although he has the same initials as Jesus, he’s got “no miracles to show.” The title track goes darker still with an imaginary liaison with a porn star that plays out as Cocker implores, “Take these dreams and make them whole,” acknowledging that his fantasy is “what men in stained raincoats pay for but in here it is pure.” “Seductive Barry,” another porn paean, treats us to a Barry White impression, crooning us through “the greatest love scene from a play no- one’s thought up yet” over a chantlike background. Pulp closes out by reverting to a more familiar, guitar-driven format: “Sylvia” is a leading candidate for a single, with its catchy, feel-good “So keep believing and do what you do, I can’t help you but I know things are gonna get better” refrain. Pulp could have played it safe and churned out more standbys (see Oasis), but with This Is Hardcore, the band has stretched both itself and the listener. Everyone walks away more satisfied.

—Niall Brennan