The album reached number one and went on to win the Mercury Music Prize. A sell-out arena tour followed. Pulp were no longer the outsiders. It felt good – to begin with, at least. “When you’ve been in the desert so long and you reach the oasis you jump in and fill your boots,” says Banks.
Cocker had achieved his lifetime ambition to be a pop star – but he would later liken it to “a nut allergy”. The infamous 1996 Brit Awards, where he ran onstage during Michael Jackson’s performance of Earth Song to wiggle his bum to the audience – and ended up getting arrested on suspicion of assault (it was video footage captured by David Bowie’s team that got him off the hook) – turned the dream of pop stardom into a nightmare. Speaking recently to the New York Times he said: “In the UK, suddenly, I was crazily recognised and I couldn’t go out anymore. It tipped me into a level of celebrity I couldn’t ever have known existed, and wasn’t equipped for. It had a massive, generally detrimental effect on my mental health.”
His disillusionment – repulsion, even – with fame, played out on Pulp’s next album, This Is Hardcore, a record about “panic attacks, pornography, fear of death and getting old.” On opener The Fear, he sang: “This is the sound of someone losing the plot/Making out they’re OK when they are not”. If Britpop was already halfway out the door, this album gave it one last brutal kick to see it on its way.
“At the time we just laughed at [Britpop],” says Banks. “We’d been lumped in with many, many scenes over the years. We just couldn’t relate to it, we weren’t bothered and the nearest we were to Britpop was Russell [Senior] wearing some Union Jack socks. It was always labels that other people foisted upon us.”
After releasing their seventh album, the Scott Walker-produced We Love Life, in 2001, Pulp went on hiatus for a decade, reforming in 2011 for a series of live dates. They played their last gig – for now at least – in their hometown of Sheffield in December 2013.
Cocker now has a new band, Jarv Is…, who released their first album Beyond the Pale over the summer. One track, House Music All Night Long, has proved something of a lockdown anthem, featuring the lyrics: “Saturday night, cabin fever in house nation/This is one nation under a roof/ Ain’t that the truth/Goddamn this claustrophobia/’Cause I should be disrobing you.” It was recorded before the pandemic, but – even when it’s accidental – it seems Pulp’s frontman can’t help writing records that perfectly capture a moment in time.
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