1995 was an enigmatic year. When future generations read over the brief synopsis of it in history books and almanacs, it's not very plausible to think it would rank very high in comparison with other years or draw much attention from any particular field. It wasn't a 1776 or 1964 - it sure as hell wasn't a 476 or 1215. There were the usual incidents and occurrences which captured the attention of the world. You know, the Oklahoma City Bombing, resumption of nuclear testing in French Polynesia, acquittal of O.J. Simpson, marriage of Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson. But if I was to ever write a history textbook, if I was ever to painstakingly piece together history from the most biased viewpoint possible, I wouldn't neglect to leave a certain detail out. 1995: the release of Different Class.
A more accomplished historian, a more assiduous researcher, might make exaggerated mentions of the Britpop movement in a cumulative sense. Its impact on the renewal of the British spirit - nationalism, patriotism, astigmatism. Oasis and their rollicking representation of the British working class. They did, after all, release a landmark album in 1995. Said historian might be so learned as to have the capability to discuss
said album, in a coherent and flowing manner. Oasis couldn't even do it! Then there were those fellows in Blur. Less rollicking, more arty, less commercially successful, more critically favoured. And historically triumphant too, I'd bet. Historians love the underdog. They love trying to prove general knowledge wrong. They love undercutting the "winner writes the history books" mentality. Jesus was born in 0 B.C.? You ignorant excuse of a human. Ray Charles is objectively better than Britney Spears? Go *** yourself and your little dog too. Come to think of it, historians would LOVE Pulp. In the Britpop world, they were the underdog of the underdog. To Oasis' Sir Barton, Pulp was the small blind horse with the broken leg going for a Triple Crown.
If you were a historian, you might well have gained some background knowledge on this topic by, say, reading my review of His n Hers
. Seeing as all history is connected, you would do well to understand the lead-up to Different Class
. As any scholar would tell you, the great thinkers, writers, artisans of our time and times past did not simply wake up one morning and decide to paint the Mona Lisa or to star in Big Trouble in Little China
on a whim. There is unending meticulousness invested in every effort. There are failures that lead up to every masterpiece and there are failures that follow. For every resounding triumph there is an equal fall. But it's all explicable. Every brushstroke on a work of art has a reason for being there - it has a history and it has a meaning. Every note ever sung, every word ever put to paper. They came from somewhere and they're going someplace. Every person has a story to tell. Not every story is exciting or well-expressed. Not every account is triumphant and commanding. But as history has often told, the best surprises can come from the oddest places.
1994's His n Hers
was a dark, gritty retelling of the most foreboding corners of Jarvis Cocker's mind. The seedy alleyways you wouldn't walk into in broad daylight. The dingy bars your imagination couldn't have made look worse. On the unparalleled Different Class
, Cocker does something masterful. He takes these characteristics to the next level. He embraces the squalid nature of his character and class. He accepts the seediness, the desperation, the poverty. He likes
it. He needs
it. He is vileness humanised and he's enjoying every last second of it. He wants a revolution where the sordid underlings of society rise up and command the fat cats who used to be at the top of the class system. Best yet - he wants to mastermind it all. He's determined to be the leader of a cultural uprising. He'll gather a band of "misshapes, mistakes" and "misfits" and take on the world. He wants your homes. Your lives. Your Monkees collection. Cocker is the voice of the youth of Britain, the voice of a generation. At this point my scholastic side steps in and informs you that Cocker was 32 at the time of the release of Different Class
and that Oasis had already owned that position. At best, Pulp was the third scheduled ascendant to the revolutionary throne. Fourth by 1995, when Radiohead came in to play. So how could Pulp really have been the voice of a generation? How could Jarvis Cocker really understand the sentiments of these kids? Two words: Common People. History dictates that working class anthems rock, man! Sex? Check. Drugs? Check. Drink? Check. Cockroaches? Oh now he's gone and taken it too far. It's too honest. It's too dirty. But it worked. And it catapulted Pulp and frontman and media-starlet-to-be Jarvis Cocker to the highest point of their long career. He was one of them
. He knew about the dark parts of life because he gravitated toward them. He belonged in them. And he wanted to bring them out of the shadows and into the centre of the music world. And it worked. Common People was a veritable anthem. Along with "Live Forever" it echoed the sentiments of a generation, though it was obvious how these bands united by a "similar" sound differed so much lyrically. "Live Forever" was hopeful, optimistic. "Common People" was anything but. Pulp made a mockery of anyone who wasn't a lackadaisical half-wit. And God bless them for it. Because "Common People" was only a foot in the door for what would be an all-out working class offensive strike on Different Class
. HISTORICALLY, the lead single is usually a good indicator of what direction a band is headed. "Common People" fits this statement almost ideally.
The album proper begins with Cocker's most brash anthem yet, Mis-Shapes
. "We're making a move/we're making it now/we're coming out of the sidelines [...] we won't use guns/we won't use bombs/we'll use the one thing we've got more of/and that's our minds
". Cocker is cocksure and not afraid to admit it. He's cocksure about being cocksure. Mis-Shapes is a rallying anthem if you're willing to be rallied. Otherwise, hey, cool song.
The most fascinating song is undoubtedly I Spy
. I can't describe how much Pulp hit the mark with this song. Every note is perfect, every word is scathing, every millisecond sounds perfectly planned for maximum effect: " You see you should take me seriously, very seriously indeed. Because I've been sleeping with your wife for the past 16 weeks. Smoking your cigarettes, drinking your brandy, messing up the bed that you chose together. And in all that time I just wanted you to come home unexpectedly one afternoon and catch us at in the front room. You see I spy for a living and I specialise in revenge, on taking the things I know will cause you pain. 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
". It's menacing, it's evil, and it's beautiful. This is a song that needs to be heard, quite simply.
Another highlight is the hushed/bombastic/hushed combination presented in "F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E.". The verses are spoken word, and while they may seem overly descriptive (take the opening line "if I close my eyes I can visualize everything in it right down, right down to the broken handle on the third drawer down of the dressing table
"), I think this accurately represents how the emphasis (or perhaps obsession) shifts to odd objects when in an extreme emotion state, which in Cocker's case is love. The second verse perfectly describes every sentiment associated with it, at least in my mind: "So what do I do? I've got this slightly sick feeling in my stomach like I'm standing on the top of a very high building. Oh yeah, all the stuff they tell you about in the movies, but this isn't chocolate boxes and roses - it's dirtier than that, like some small animal that only comes out at night. And I see 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
". His description is frighteningly detailed and accurate. The chorus (centred around the title) expands on this.
The remainder of the songs on the album minimise the activist stance, but the class divisions permeate every song. The album can just be viewed as a collection of well-composed pop songs, and this is quite accurate. But viewing the album at this level ignores the layers which make it more than just another record to listen to. The lyrics mean
something. They can represent something as basic as the honesty and directness with which Cocker's class confronts sex (Underwear
), drugs and alcohol (Sorted For E's and Wizz
, the title is pretty self-explanatory) in comparison with the upper classes. But the album on the whole, and particularly volatile tracks like Common People
and I Spy
reveal the still-existing cleavages between the different levels of English society. Cocker may be famous, and he may have risen to stardom. But he came from somewhere
. He rose from the among the lower levels of British society, to the highest. But he's still one of them
. This may be a good thing - it certainly helps him maintain his street cred. But he was not equal with the upper classes. He was at the top, but it didn't last. It couldn't last. For every peak there is an almost insurmountable mountain to climb to get there. For every triumph there is an equal fall. But in 1995 Jarvis Cocker and Pulp were at the top, and they decided to make use of it. Every word has a background, every line has a reason for being where it is, every song, once revealed, will forever hold its place. Different Class
marks a time. It marks a movement. It voices the grievances of an entire class. Yes, it's pop music. Yes, it's made for entertainment. But art always reflects something. Perhaps something as simple as the technologies and techniques that were available and known about at the time. Different Class
couldn't have been recorded in 1943, it relies to heavily on synths. It couldn't have been recorded by a Finnish band, it's too layered in British sentiment and dissent. Any historian could tell you that.
Please understand. We don't want no trouble. We just want the right to be different. That's all. :downs:
I'll put you in my history book anytime baby.
Dr. Amanda Q. Urkel is a Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Archaeology at Oxford University, Toronto satellite campus. 5/5 Over and out