In the most sacrilegious of admissions, I got into Pulp through a greatest hits collection. Their Hits collection to be precise. It was after hearing Common People on ‘Never Mind The Buzzcocks’ and realising I was missing a huge chunk in my Britpop education and fearing disappointment, I dipped my toe in but was soon submerged in the world of Jarvis Cocker and co.
Desperation, lovelorn fanaticism, and of course, girls who studied sculpture at St Martin’s College; it’s all in Different Class.
I find Different Class to be the most cohesive of their albums, though not my favourite (This is Hardcore wins for the sleazy sensuality of the title song alone), but its influence on me was indelible. Jarvis Cocker is verbose, arrogant, a shape-shifting chameleon in song and story. Mis-Shapes sets the scene so aptly, ‘We don’t look the same as you/ and we don’t do the things you do/but we live round here too.’ It’s for the lower classes, the people who were struggling to make ends meet and didn’t want the suddenly re-emerging British eliticism breathing down their necks.
But behind every political message, as cleverly disguised in wordy addresses as they were, there was the beating heart of Pulp – the music. The record is a survivor of the synth world, in that the songs haven’t aged. Disco 2000 is still a singalong affair with plenty of gyrating hips and flamboyant Jarvis-esque hand gestures and Sorted for E’s & Wizz…well, that particular festival pastime has not ebbed over the years. There’s a hefty dose of twisted love song in the fiery F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E. Jarvis sounds more in lust than love, but the lyrics avoid cliché as the music fades and soars in accordance to his falsetto and staccato chorus delivery. It’s just so damn good.
And then there’s Common People. That synth line, jagged guitar riff and Cocker’s breathless voice, whispering, singing, practically shouting at some points; it’s impossible to describe how perfectly it comes together. The song grows with Cocker’s indignant anger, to the point where he exclaims ‘You’ll never fail like common people do/ You’ll never watch your life slide out of view.’
It’s an exquisite narrative, Cocker amusing this faceless international beauty with a trust fund with horror stories of cockroach infested apartments and walking through supermarkets with no money in your pocket. More than anything, the song encapsulates the completely nihilistic attitude adopted by the Thatcher generation; the overwhelming sense of hopelessness in the lines ‘Rent a flat above a shop/cut your hair and get a job/smoke some fags and play some pool/ pretend you never went to school.’
Pulp are reuniting in 2011. Is it a ploy to make some quick cash? A genuine rebirth of Britpop’s most posthumously lauded? Or setting up for an underwhelming return to stage to rehash old tricks? Whatever the motivation is or result may be, there’s no doubt Different Class’ middle-class visions will be sung along to with as much vigour and verisimilitude as any 90s audience.