It’s a funny word, and it’s something (for whatever reason) that I’m experiencing more and more. Which I know probably makes me sound ancient (I’m not), but I seem to be revisiting the late 90s and the music associated with my teenage years. Yes, I’m talking Blur Oasis, Texas, The Verve, Suede – the list is probably endless, but all have the common theme of the golden years of Britpop. However, there is one album above all others that’s seemingly getting more airplay at Casa Simonte – Pulp’s 1995 classic – Different Class.
The summer of 20 years ago (as an aside, I have absolutely no idea where the past 20 years have actually gone), Pulp released Common People, and I instantly fell in love. I wore the cassette out playing it through the long school summer holiday. Yes, I bought into the whole Oasis/Blur battle of 1995, but then there was Pulp and the louche elegance of Jarvis Cocker. I adore (What’s The Story) Morning Glory, there’s no question of that, and I have far too many memories attached to that, but with Oasis it was more a “what you see is what you get” grimness. Pulp’s Different Class took you to a vivid, colourful world. As an album, it is a must-have for anyone’s collection. As a document of the Cool Britannia period it is invaluable proof that not all British rock stars of that time were drunken loutish neanderthals.
Like the Lego Movie’s Cloud Cuckoo Land, you can’t get more vivid than the world Jarvis Cocker takes us. Cynical and disillusioned, squalid and depraved, funny and sad, joyful and desperate. If you could step inside the album you would most likely find yourself leaning against a urine-soaked wall on a rainy street corner on a run-down Sheffield housing estate. Cocker sings voyeuristically about its impoverished inhabitants eke out their dead-end existence, with no hope or escape; only drink, drugs, seedy casual sex and mindless violence providing any distraction from the bleakness of it all.
Depressing as this vision is, Different Class is by no means a depressing listen. Whilst it has its moments of desperate, lonely sadness – Live Bed Show, the pathetic, forlorn longing of Disco 2000 and Underwear, with a dash of sordid depravity in Pencil Skirt and I Spy. There are also uplifting moments of defiance and righteous anger, all of which is wonderfully underscored by Cocker’s spiky wit. The opening track Mis-Shapes is a rallying cry for anyone who has ever been made to suffer for standing out from the herd, whilst Common People ‘ the classic for which Pulp will always be remembered ‘ rages magnificently against those who attempt to be fashionably working class. There is tenderness too – Something Changed is simply lovely.
Pulp had already been around for a long time before Different Class was released, and this album represents them at the absolute pinnacle of their game. The perfect album for its time, it rose above the frenzied hype and media manipulation that surrounded the Britpop era, and perhaps serves as the most powerful and articulate example of the music produced during this period. It speaks to the secret dark side in all of us of which we are uncomfortably aware, but would prefer not to acknowledge, especially to other people. Cocker is forthright and unabashed in sharing his with us to superb (if occasionally unsettling) effect.
I can get as misty-eyed as everyone else of my generation at the sound of Wonderwall or Don’t Look Back In Anger. After all, they were hits at the same time. There’s nothing at all wrong with that, of course. But to hear a song that takes you on a vivid lyrical journey to a very unpleasant place in all its stark, dank, grimy squalor and thoroughly enjoy the ride as well as appreciate the message is an all too rare experience.
Different Class achieves this with practically every track.
The Knitty Gritty
So this album is available on iTunes, Spotify, Deezer…
Other albums to listen to:
Urban Hymns – The Verve
Dog Man Star – Suede