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Pulp hooks ease search for days of perpetual youthfulness

If you have testicles and feel like looking older, grow a beard. I did so recently and everyone said, "Wow, you look at least three years older." That was fun until I realized, "I'm 22." At 22, why would anyone want to look older? (Gee, I can get into bars that I could already legally enter. Cool.)

It's one thing to try to look older when you're under 21, and quite another once you've crossed that line. The next age milestone I have to reach is 30, at which point I will be able to run for the House of Representatives. Fun as that might be, it isn't worth growing facial hair over.

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I'd suspected I was getting old ever since Kobe Bryant made the All-Star team at 19. I'd long thought of NBA players as all being Michael Jordans (age-wise), whom I aspired to be like when I grew up. "When you grow up," I'd tell myself while watching Michael leap over the opposing point guard for a 360 dunk, "you'll be able to do that." Now I watch Kobe Bryant, nearly three years younger than I am, and it occurs to me, "I have grown up. I'm still not dunking." Aging sucks.

Anyway, I was sulking over getting so old so unexpectedly when I listened to the Brit-pop band Pulp's latest album, "This is Hardcore," and now I feel better. Pulp's lead singer Jarvis Cocker is currently best-known for mooning Michael Jackson at a British awards show, but this album may make progress in getting him recognized as the finest lyricist alive. He's the same perceptive, witty, sex-crazed bloke he was on "His 'n Hers" and "Different Class," only this time around Jarvis has suddenly realized he's ancient (and he is – somewhere in his 30's).

Aging is a topic rarely addressed by bands. For instance, Oasis' only concession to mortality is no longer openly advocating cocaine use. "This is Hardcore" is a truly unique mix of celebrations of monogamy, meditations on the horrors of unfulfilled goals and tributes to the charms of pornography.

In strict terms of music, the album is subdued to the point of being bland, but that seems necessary. Any more noise would distract from Jarvis, and he has a lot to say.

"I am not Jesus/ Though I have the same initials," Jarvis Cocker declares on the gorgeous "Dishes," "I am the man who stays home and does the dishes." Seeing as how a mere album ago Jarvis was one moment musing about revolution ("Brothers, sisters can't you see?/ The future's owned by you and me") and the next sleeping with a married woman purely for the thrill of having her husband "catch us at it," a lot has changed.

Jarvis has decided, "I'm not worried that I will never reach the stars/ Cuz the stars belong in heaven, and earth is where we are." Both his loftier and pettier ambitions have been jettisoned, leaving him to focus on relationships. At moments, such as on "Dishes," in which he writes perhaps the first love song celebrating the virtues of companionship, or on "TV Movie," in which he tenderly coos to an estranged lover, "Without you my life has become . . . a movie made for TV . . . too long with no story and no sex," Jarvis' new attitude seems a blessing. However, on much of the album it's simply a case of him lowering his expectations, and then failing to meet even those low goals.

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This is where the porno fixation comes in. I think it's safe to say no pop album addresses porn in quite the fashion "This is Hardcore" does (Indeed, how many pop bands address porn? Maybe Hanson. That "MMMBop" thing still sounds dirty to me).

The lyrics are vivid but not graphic, straightforward but not crude and most impressively, acknowledge the appeal of porn while still admitting that it's pretty damn, for lack of a better word, yucky.

The marvelously titled "Seductive Barry" finds Jarvis watching porn and saying to the TV, "I don't know where you got those clothes/ You can take them off if it will make you feel better" and "If this is a dream, then I'm going to sleep for the rest of my life."

His experiences with real human beings aren't much healthier. On "Help the Aged" Jarvis muses on the horrors of aging and mortality before launching into an impassioned plea for young girls to give lonely old men some ("Nothing lasts forever/ No big deal/ So give us all a feel."). This tune, I predict, will one day be the theme song for midlife crises everywhere.

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I guess this all leads to the question, "Why do I feel better about getting old if Jarvis predicts the future as being little more than a time when you lose your dreams and gain an interest in dirty movies?"

Well, the biggest reason is the song "Glory Days," which begins with a call to "Raise your voice in celebration of the days that we have wasted" and builds to the conclusion, "If it all amounts to nothing – it doesn't matter, these are still our glory days."

And while I'm a little bitter that I'm not in the NBA yet and that I didn't think of growing facial hair until after I could legally buy alcohol, well . . . what Jarvis said.

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