Pulp, Different Class 1995, Island Records
Live Bed Show
Sorted for E's & Wizz
I have always assumed that Pulp were a product of the 1990s, so I was shocked to discover that they were formed in 1978. The Sheffield based rockers had released three albums before their breakthrough, His ‘n’ Hers. It was their fifth album, the chart topping Different Class however that gained them major success. It also won the 1996 Mercury Music Prize and went four times platinum.
This length of time as a relatively obscure act, a few independent record labels, a number of line up changes (the list of people who have been in Pulp at one time or another is the longest I’ve ever seen) and a slight name change from Arabicus Pulp gave them a style that was very distinctively their own.
Mis-Shapes which along with Sorted for E's & Wizz was released as the album’s first single (a double A-side) begins with frontman Jarvis Cocker’s breathy vocal and then the relentless drumbeat kicks into this anthem for the awkward and disaffected. Pencil Skirt takes that same vocal style to the next level, it’s sexy in the darkest way possible. Common People is the single everybody knows thanks in part to that video with Sadie Frost. It remains a great tune with a brilliant disco tinged beat and the kind of cutting lyrics for which Jarvis Cocker is famous. The delivery of “I said "pretend you got no money"/ And she just laughed and said "oh, you're so funny"/ I said "yeah… / Well, I can't see anyone else smiling in here”” remains one of the most brilliant denigrations of the culture of ‘poverty porn’ that exists in Britain. Sadly it also feels incredibly relevant to our political class today. I Spy continues the lyrical theme while being unexpectedly orchestral and the “la-la-las” are delivered with an impressive level of panache. Disco 2000, another single release starts with a perfect guitar riff. The tale of wondering about what an unrequited childhood crush is up to now is upbeat and poppy despite the downbeat lyrics. Live Bed Show is slow and sad. Something Changed feels disappointingly like a standard love song after all that’s come before it, thankfully the brilliant Sorted for E's & Wizz is next. I’m not sure if I love this song so much because its title is a question I’ve been asked at a lot of parties before or because it distils the rave experience so perfectly in the chorus; “ In the middle of the night, it feels alright / But then tomorrow morning…” The beat is great too. F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E takes a while to get started before it turns into a poppy epic where the whole band get a chance to show their skills. Underwear lets the guitars shine on the story of a sexual encounter that one partner is having second thoughts about. Monday Morning has some neat synth sounds and great bass as it discusses the reality of a boring life, there are more brilliant “la-la-las” again here too. Bar Italia closes the album with the comedown from Sorted for E's & Wizz the beat is gentle but the lyrics are anything but. It’s a pretty satisfying way to end
It’s an album full of socially and politically charged lyrics, it can be acerbic and cutting and it’s also a really dirty album, both in a sexual sense and in the sense of the messy realities that it deals with. A lot of the lyrical content is clearly there to be a bit shocking, but the themes are pretty universal, hence its popularity because you feel like they are speaking directly to you. The only Britpop stereotype it conforms to is that the first half is a bit better than the second overall. It’s an album of stories, each song a perfectly captured narrative moment.
The cover art is a real wedding photo. Donald Milne, the photographer Pulp had commissioned offered to photograph a friend’s wedding for free if they would agree to pose for some pictures with cardboard cutouts of the band.
Although they really only ended up in the Britpop bucket by accident, Pulp are responsible for what many see as the defining moment of Britpop - their headline set at Glastonbury in 1995, where a hundred thousand people (probably - so many people got in without tickets after a fence collapsed that nobody can be sure of the numbers) screamed Common People along with them.
They broke up in 2002 but Pulp, and this album in particular, remain a defining element of Britain in the 1990s.