It’s 20 years since Sheffield indie-poppers Pulp released Different Class. That makes it 20 years that it’s been on constant rotation in Mickey Noonan’s house.
In the 1990s Blur and Oasis battled it out in charts and hearts, like wannabe top dogs in some sort of TOTP class war. It was baffling and boisterous and all a bit, well, ladz. And there, on the outskirts of this ridiculous skirmish, not even bothered about watching the fight, were Pulp. Speaking to outsiders everywhere, Pulp were more counter-culture and of their time than either of those two pretenders to the Britpop throne. Released in 1995, Different Class is arguably the jewel in their crown.
“Please understand. We don’t want no trouble. We just want the right to be different. That’s all.” Thus reads the album’s liner notes, causing mis-shapes, mistakes and misfits of the world to thump their hearts and let out a collective cheer.
Different Class offers a look at suburban, working-class life and love that’s grubby around the edges, filled with mundanity; real. And for all that, it still brims with romance, picking out beautiful details within the everyday ugly.
Bar Italia is an ode to the blurry beauty of the post-club comedown (“There’s only one place we can go / It’s around the corner in Soho / Where other broken people go. / Let’s go.”); Something Changed, played at weddings across the land, ponders chance, fate and love without any of the usual cliched nonsense; F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E. is a spot-on snapshot of modern love – Cocker couldn’t give a rat’s arse about sentimentality; he goes straight to the raw, visceral, terrifying emotions: “This isn’t chocolate boxes and roses / It’s dirtier than that, like some small animal that only comes out at night.”
Cocker’s lyrical prowess is what lifts Different Class from being an excellent, larger-than-life pop record to masterpiece status. I mean, really: “I can’t help it. I was dragged up / My favourite parks are car parks / Grass is something you smoke / Birds are something you shag / Take your year in Provence and shove it up your ass.” Just superb.
Genius is a term bandied about willy-nilly, but Jarvis Cocker is the real deal. Take away the music and his words are pure poetry (see his book of collected lyrics Mother, Brother, Lover if you need proof). Within every paean to the seedy side of life is a knowing wink to the listener; as far as Cocker’s concerned, we’re outsiders in this together. Sure, “you could end up with a smack in the mouth, just for standing out” (Mis-Shapes), but he makes that risk seem worth it.
Twenty years on, synth-spiked pop anthems Common People and Disco 2000 still fill dancefloors. And they still feel relevant, as does every single song on the album – but then one of the great joys of Pulp is that the songs felt nostalgic and anachronistic even as they detailed what was happening at the time.
Let’s not forget that behind Cocker stand a formidably talented pack of musicians: Nick Banks (drums), Steve Mackey (bass), Russell Senior (guitar and violin), Candida Doyle (best two-finger keyboard playing ever. FACT) and Mark Webber (guitar. On a side-note – and different album – play Sunrise from 2001’s We Love Life at full blast to appreciate how bloody smashing Webber is).
“Genius is a term bandied about willy-nilly, but Jarvis Cocker is the real deal. Take away the music and his words are pure poetry.”
Then there’s the hit that catapulted Pulp into the mainstream. Common People is a magnificently nuanced act of class warfare that’s also a terrific sing-along, even for the social slummers and poverty tourists it takes a swipe at – testament to its brilliance as a tune as well as its status as bob-on social commentary.
Different Class was Pulp’s fifth album and it’s hard to think of an album that more perfectly captures a band in their stride. It’s 52 minutes and 50 seconds of mucky passion, delivered in Cocker’s croaky, breathy Sheffield drawl, a melodic razzmatazz underlying and belying the banality of 1990s life viewed through thick-rimmed NHS specs.
Jarvis was my pin-up at university. Lanky, awkward, a bit of a perv, smart as paint and droll as fuck: he’s still my pin-up now.5362 Views
Aged five, Mickey Noonan shoved an apple pip up her nose to see what happened. Older, wiser but sadly without a nose-tree, Standard Issue's editor remains curious about the world. Likes running, jumping and static trapeze.