October Symphonies

Release's hilarious showstopper, "The Night I Fell in Love," rewrites Behavior's "Nervously" as masturbatory fantasy. A smitten schoolboy ventures backstage in search of a pop star, who, before ravishing him, cracks, "Hey, your name isn't Stan, is it?" Another clue if you need it: The morning after a night of passion ("I would rate him a nine out of 10"), they joke "about Dre and his homies." So the Pets trump Sir Elton in their solution to the Eminem problem, which has vexed gay British elder statesmen as much as American rock critics. In this giddy answer-song, revenge is commensurate with sweetness. The aural gags are to die for: the contented swoon of the backing vocal ("secret lah-vahs"), the bass imitating a cardiogram of a horny ka-thump. MTV News recently played the track for Dr. Dre, who seemed amused but promised a rebuttal. But "he couldn't have been a nicer bloke"! What does he want—a perfect score?!

In 1996, Jarvis Cocker became a folk hero in the U.K. by puncturing a thin celebrity skin. At the Brit Awards, he stormed the stage as Michael Jackson and a multiracial cast of children were enacting a Christian pageant. On Pulp's magnificent new album, We Love Life (slated for U.S. release this summer), Jarvis sings, "I love my life," fortuitously eviscerating vortex-of-attention Julia Roberts, who uttered the same words before proceeding to maul Denzel Washington at the Oscars this year. Jarv means it differently of course. The next line in the song is "It's the only reason I'm alive."

Cocker's ingenious (and supremely generous) method is to articulate crippling existential fears in the form of rousing, tidal anthems—uniting his fellow Xanax poppers in a sort of pagan baptism. A magnum opus four years in the making, We Love Life is, like This Is Hardcore's epic cold sweat, a disco-nnection record, well stocked with mis-shapes, mistakes, misfits. But Pulp's glamorama has never tingled so invitingly, thanks to the full-body massage administered by producer Scott Walker. In godlike genius form, the former boy child invokes a magic-realist soundscape with miraculously shifting horizons.

They wouldn't normally do this kind of thiing.
photo: Chris Floyd
They wouldn't normally do this kind of thiing.


Pet Shop Boys

We Love Life
Island import

The album's environmental theme doesn't "preach and teach the whole world about ecology" (per a PSB song). Instead, Pulp simply milk the great outdoors for gruesome tableaux. Nature is where messy sex happens and things decay and oh look everything's gone green. The pastoral croon "Trees" opens with an air-rifle casualty, while a Tippi-haunted aviary offers seduction advice in "Birds in My Garden."

Tragedy strikes unambiguously on "The Night That Minnie Timperley Died" (Cocker's fascination with doomed young women is approaching the Lynchian), but throughout, the suggestion of danger is close at hand. The glorious, hip-swaying mega-ballad "Bad Cover Version" is adorned with eerie, dessicated ooh-ooh-ooh-oohs (next to other disappointments like "the Stones since the '80s," Cocker throws in his producer's tortured album maudit: "the second side of 'Til the Band Comes In"). "Wickerman" undertakes an eight-minute, semi-spoken-word psychogeographic expedition down an urban waterway—the industrial-waste equivalent of Night of the Hunter's expressionist river ride. On dumpee sing-along "Bob Lind," what sounds like the astounding 12-string guitar of Glen Campbell runs riot aboveground, while a black hole of 10 double basses beckons from the lower depths.

In the album's frightshow centerpiece, "I Love Life," a queasy Jarvis steadies himself—"breathe in, breathe out," "look at all these buildings and houses." As the song internally combusts, his simmering terror boils over into mutinous rage: "You've got to fight to the death for the right to live your life!" The Pet Shop Boys put the impulse even more starkly on Release's "London," acknowledging those early acquisitive song titles to boot: "I want to live before I die." Could anyone possibly think they don't mean it?

Pet Shop Boys play Hammerstein Ballroom May 21 and 22.

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