Tuesday, November 6, 2007

[034] Different Class

Album: Different Class
Artist: Pulp
Release Date: October 1995
Label: Island
Producer: Chris Thomas

"Please understand. We don't want no trouble. We just want the right to be different. That's all."
- from the back cover of the CD booklet

It begins with the shriek of a violin and a Teutonic pulse, like you were checking the digital heartbeat of a robot that is 1984’s idea of what the year 2000 was going to be like. The guitar stabs your ears like the cawing of a Swiss cuckoo clock. The singer saunters in, clearly sure that he is the most interesting person in the room, whispering his story in your ear while his vocal melody is tapped out on a Fisher-Price “My First Synthesizer”. His come-ons carry lust and disgust in equal measure. The beat starts with a whimper not a scream, and the keyboard wants to be that banging piano in every Stooges song, but it really just sounds like it’s straight out of a cheesy Italian club groove. Sirens sound the attack. The singer raises his voice, and the room turns to look at him. He’s in a huff now, poking you with his bony index finger. His passivity is aggressive, his offense a good defense. You listen but don’t hear him, because no amount of costumes and acting will ever make you understand. He speaks for the ones you ignore and cast aside, and he knows you think slumming is glamorous. This is his rallying cry – it’s not so nice to live where we live, but it’s our home nonetheless, so get out, and stay out while you’re at it, unless you’re itching for ridicule. The music swells, drums gallop, guitars slash, singer’s chest out, stomach in; you can feel the heat of his breath, you recoil as he gets louder. He says, “Don’t ever make these mistakes again. Don’t fuck with us.” The singer saunters out the door, and his song fades. It is “Common People”, the indignant centerpiece of Different Class, an anthem of the highest order, occupying that glamorous space between “Imagine” and “Anarchy In The UK”, “Heroes” and “Let’s Go Crazy”, and it’s one of the best songs of these last 20 years.

“Common People”, for all intents and purposes, put Pulp on the international map, and made them stars in the UK, where the song went to #2 on the charts, the first of four top ten hits from Different Class. The British media threw the band in the emerging Britpop pack with Blur, Oasis, and Suede, but Pulp had been kicking around for over 15 years, recording their first stuff in 1980, and trying to ride the synth-pop wave out of their hometown of Sheffield (Big export: Human League). Nothing ever really stuck as frontman Jarvis Cocker changed sounds and a couple dozen band members. They had always drawn from the less…chunky side of Glam Rock – Roxy Music, Bowie’s ballads, etc, but around the dawn of the 90’s, they started to strip away the New Wave and the Post-Punk, and instead replaced it with Disco and brooding songwriting dissecting the seedier side of life. As they cranked up the guitars and converged with what Suede were doing, touring with Blur, their sound was their own, almost like the evil doppelganger of the Pet Shop Boys, or recasting The Smiths’ broad strokes without their black humor. Cocker had grown into the kind of distinctly English narrator that the Brit press love, subtly venomous, deflating the hypocrisies of the UK’s class divides.

“Mis-Shapes”, with its climactic exclamation of “We won’t use guns, we won’t use bombs, we’ll use the one thing we’ve got more of – that’s our minds”, might as well be the triumphant rally at the end of Revenge Of The Nerds, with Cocker leading the meek to their rightful place on the throne. Jarvis may look like a university scholar with his smoking jacket, but he writes for the working class, the lower class, looking up at the boorish rich. He used his natural flair for personal style and biting sense of humor to sell Pulp’s newfound self-assurance and focus. The smirking parody of “Sorted For E’s & Wizz” skewers the Rave scene with precision. The band casually dresses up a small-town yarn like “Disco 2000” in soaring strings and images of mirrorballs, lifting it out of its literal class dilemma. The Two-Tone of The Specials is ingrained in the DNA of “Monday Morning”, but the song transcends simple tribute by helplessly clawing at the insecurity of the lyrics. By the time the band closes “Bar Italia”, there is as much pity and sorrow for their targets with the fat wallets and hangovers as there is cynical critique. Just as Pulp’s own wallets were getting thick, they were assuring the world that you could be happier without the excess.

When Different Class isn’t about taking the upper middle class down a peg, it’s about sex, lots of sex. Jarvis Cocker became a sex symbol in the UK around the time of “Common People” (which came out during the album’s recording), and so he took the opportunity to release his inner Prince on the rest of the record. Cocker is a pretty lascivious fellow; “Pencil Skirt” is an adulterous marvel, spinning out of control as the narrator lets his conscience disappear, while he prefers you in your “Underwear”, effortlessly dropping quips like “If fashion is your trade then when you’re naked I guess you must be unemployed, yeah?” The showstopper “Live Bed Show” chronicles the long life of the bed belonging to an aging tramp. On the brooding epic “F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E.”, Cocker tries to figure out where the line between love and lust is, noting that “this isn’t chocolate & roses – it’s dirtier than that, like some small animal that only comes out at night”, talking dirty, “flashes of the shape of your breasts and the curve of your belly, and they make me have to sit down and catch my breath.” Throughout the class struggles and the sexual adventures, Jarvis Cocker and Pulp play on the inherent bittersweet clouds that cover the daily working class existence; the music is moody but campy, uncomfortable but powerful, embarrassed and cocksure at the same time. The one bright spot, without any sense of inner battles or defensive posture, “Something Changed” is a sweet love song, offering the light at the end of the tunnel that people of all classes are moving towards; Cocker reminisces about the time “you touch my hand and softly say, ‘Stop asking questions that don’t matter anyway. Just give us a kiss to celebrate here today’”, and you realize that love will work it all out - like he says on “Mis-Shapes”: “The future’s owned by you and me; there won’t be fighting in the street.”

01. "Mis-Shapes"
02. "Pencil Skirt"
03. "Common People"
04. "I Spy"
05. "Disco 2000"
06. "Live Bed Show"
07. "Something Changed"
08. "Sorted For E's & Wizz"
09. "F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E."
10. "Underwear"
11. "Monday Morning"
12. "Bar Italia"

"Common People" [live, 1996]
This is a fucking incredible clip; America just doesn't have concerts like this.

"Mis-Shapes" [video]

"Disco 2000" [video]

"Sorted For E's & Wizz" [video]

- BONUS: "Common People" [single edit - video]
- BONUS: "I Spy" [live in London, 1996]
- BONUS: "Something Changed" [video]
- BONUS: "Sorted For E's & Wizz" [live on the 1996 Brit Awards]
- BONUS: "Underwear" [live at Glastonbury 95]
- BONUS: "Monday Morning" [live on The White Room, 1995]
- BONUS: "Bar Italia" [live at the 1996 Mercury Prize ceremony]

1 comment:

Cynthia said...