Classic Album covers : This Is Hardcore - Pulp

Sexy girls on covers rarely have any serious rationale for being there. Pulp’s This Is Hardcore, released on Island Records in 1998, is different. Hardcore is an expression often used to indicate blatant pornography It can also be used by a band to signify that they want their work to be taken seriously……

In 1997 designer Peter Saville received a call from Jarvis Cocker. “They needed to reposition Pulp” he recalls, “They wanted to present Pulp more as a rock band. The music was a lot deeper, darker and moodier and they called it This Is Hardcore”

The result was one of the most controversial album covers of the nineties

That was probably assured the moment they invited American painter John Currin to direct it. Currin is known for his technically skillful paintings, which typically depict the intensely sexualized female form with heavily pornographic overtones. This meeting of high and low art has found a ready audience and Currin’s work routinely sells in the high six-figures

The artist flew to the UK and worked closely with Saville to develop a concept for the shoot. In briefing the pair, Cocker explained that the title didn’t refer to pornography, but rather the “new, hard, resolute spirit of the band” says Saville, “Jarvis talked to us about fame and how it changes the world around you.” He was admirably blunt is admitting that the band “wanted to be taken more seriously”

The eventual plan was to take photos of the band next to models. These models were carefully chosen for their “super-real characteristics”

The final choice for the cover was shot on the last day in Saville’s apartment, after the original photos were deemed to be “not hardcore enough”. The woman was an 18 year old  Russian glamour model known only as Ksenia, who said: “The shoot was fun. Jarvis is very nice, very shy”

The impact of the cover is heightened by its striking aesthetic, which manages to be at once grainy and high-gloss. Currin chose fashion photographer Horst Diekgerdes to take the images, before Saville used a Photoshop feature called Smart Blur to create a more painterly finish

The final touch is the typography, with the album’s title stamped over the model in Helvetica Bold to resemble a message from the censorship board

This is Hardcore might have flown under the radar as cover art but when the label released posters all over London they caused a scandal. Was the woman a sex doll? Had she just been raped? Was she dead? The strong opinion of many women was that she was certainly offensive

Vandals took to the images, defacing them with statements that included ‘This Offends Women’, ‘This is Sexist’ and ‘This is Demeaning’. Saville was unrepentant. “For the whole thing just to have passed without a murmur would have been a great disappointment”

This Is Hardcore. Pulp fact or Pulp fiction?

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