Thursday, May 22, 2008

Cocaine Socialism

It would’ve been one hell of a comeback single -- a five-minute exegeses detailing the corroded state of British politics. It was Pulp’s most ambitious recording to date, with the band sparing no expense in order to realize their withering vision.

But instead, it was shelved, then used to form the basis of a wholly different song, then released in a tapered-down mix as a b-side. Nine years later, the “Proper Version” of “Cocaine Socialism” finally gained official release on the This Is Hardcore reissue.

In recent years, Jarvis has expressed ambivalence about this track’s ultimate fate. While he’s voiced an understandable concern about the song’s musical resemblance to “Common People,” other comments have been more ambiguous. “The basic truth was that I didn’t have the stomach for it anymore,” he says in his liner notes.

It’s a shame, because the fact of the matter is: “Cocaine Socialism” is one of the band’s most significant and accomplished tracks. Jarvis describes the sort of pitch-lines he and other rock celebrities of the time were fielding from Tony Blair minions with some of his most savage bon mots. “You must be a socialist/ ‘Cause you’re always off out on the piss.” The band accompanies him with arena-rock that aims to draw real blood. On the “Proper Version,” garish-sounding horns and backing vocalists are kept high in the mix. These accoutrements manage to make doubly clear the song’s angry vision.

Although it was written in response to UK-specific, now-dated brands like Britpop and New Labour, it’s still relevant in the way it pinpoints the moment when a lifestyle or set of beliefs becomes just another commodity. Idealism is a frail thing, this song says, and in politics it’s almost inevitably usurped for nefarious ends. (“You can be just what you want to be/ Just as long as you don’t try to compete with me.”) Anyone following the current U.S. presidential race with any vested interest would be wise to consider this song’s cautionary tale.

The next post will discuss the song that “Cocaine Socialism” turned into.

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