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Pulp
This Is Hardcore
(Island)

Jarvis Cocker's songs are much like Martin Amis's novels: The characters are distasteful, the situations sordid, the sex unsavory, and the humor cruel. It's an ugly picture of humankind stripped to the skivvies with its immorality dangling in the wind. Amis likes to hide his obvious titillation by this scene under a veil of proper English values, but Cocker, who fronts the synth-pop band Pulp, is tickled pink by it.

Cocker has been playing the detached debauchee for quite a few years now -- ever since 1979, in fact, when he formed what was then known as Arabacus Pulp as a teenager. Pulp's first introduction to America was an alluringly cheap disco song ("Do You Remember the First Time?") taken from the album His 'n' Hers (1994). "I don't care what you're doing/No, I don't care if you screw him," Cocker sang in an anguished voice. Different Class, released late in 1995, produced Pulp's first true smash hit in the United Kingdom, the working-class anthem "Common People." With his combination of pith and pathos, decadence and sentiment, the skinny 35-year-old Cocker has become one of the most popular singers in England. This Is Hardcore, Pulp's most recent effort, is filled with the standard overblown dramas and shameful episodes, and as usual it's Cocker's wicked humor that makes it all palatable. Only he could sing a love song that contains the lines, "You are like the last drink I never should have drunk/You are the body hidden in the trunk."

Pulp is basically a four-piece back-up band that plays romantic synth-rock while Cocker croons his sad songs, but This Is Hardcore reveals more musical experimentation than previous albums. "Help the Aged" tiptoes along like a public-service jingle as Cocker counsels, "Help the aged/One time they were just like you/Drinking, smoking cigs, and sniffing glue." A cool xylophone introduces "The Dishes" while Cocker muses, "I'm not Jesus, though I have the same initials/I am the man who stays at home and does the dishes." He also stretches his normally limited vocal range, doing a delightful Bowie imitation on "Party Hard," purring into the microphone like Barry White on "Seductive Barry," and even rasping like Bob Dylan on "TV Movie."

The album's shining moment is the pornographic title track, which slithers along on a sampled horn riff like the theme from an old spy film. "Leave your makeup on/And I'll leave on the light," Cocker snarls. The song builds to an absolute crescendo of bad taste, with a tawdry string section swooning away behind Cocker's repugnant refrain, "And that goes in there/And that goes in there." It's a real piece of nastiness, but that's the essence of Pulp.

-- Rafer Guzman

Against All Authority
All Fall Down
(Hopeless)

This Miami-based quintet doesn't have a vocalist or bassist. Instead, as the liner notes to All Fall Down state, they have Danny Lore: "4 strings & a mouthful of fuck." And what a busy mouth it is. On Against All Authority's second full-length CD (the first was 1996's Destroy What Destroys You), Lore fires his venomous mouth with blinding speed and fury over seething punk power chords and deep ska grooves. Cranking out fifteen tracks in less than 30 minutes, Lore and his bandmates -- guitarist Joe Koontz, saxophonist Tim "Big Dawg" Coats, trumpeter Jeremy Kaiser, drummer Kris King -- launch the listener on a torrid trip through incest, murder, angst, anger, rebellion, and individualism.

From the opening title track, Against All Authority reminds you that the intensity of legendary Eighties Washington, D.C., hardcore/reggae pioneers Bad Brains burns deep in their soul. AAA replaces the reggae breaks of Bad Brains with funky, horn-accented ska while delivering their punk riffs and beats even faster and rougher than the D.C. outfit.

AAA's lyrics cover a broad range of topics -- from space probes to the dilemmas of life lived on the hustle -- but regardless of the subject matter, the messages are delivered with a wallop. On "12:00 a.m.," ska thumps crescendo as Lore snaps, "She doesn't know if she's gonna make it through the night/She don't care, she's sick 'n tired of this life/A car rolls up so she shakes her ass the best she can/5:00 a.m. in Goulds they found her stuffed in a garbage can." The word can explodes out of Lore's mouth accompanied by the sound of a screeching guitar and a rapid, rippling beat; then his voice grows angrier as he tears into the chorus: "Are you gonna play the roles society wrote for you?/Are you gonna play the roles?/Don't play the roles/Don't play the roles/Never play the roles."

That sums up the themes of All Fall Down -- never conform, keep an eye on the Man, and watch out for your friends. It's a homegrown ska-punk ride that would sound good no matter where it came from. (P.O. Box 7495, Van Nuys, CA 91409-7495)

-- Larry Boytano

Hieroglyphics
Third Eye Vision
(Hieroglyphics Imperium)

Aceyalone
The Book of Human Language
(Project Blowed Recordings)

When the definitive history of hip-hop is finally written, a group of contemporary artists -- a very loose consortium of vital preservationists known in rap lingo as the Underground -- will likely figure prominently. Among them: Oakland's Hieroglyphics and L.A.'s Aceyalone.

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