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Smut, drugs, snobbery and revolution: everything that makes Britain great is here on one album, says Bob Stanley.
“Jarvis Cocker, The worlds least likely sex symbol!” If I read that line one more time I’ll scream. Give the man a break. He’s svelte to the point of nauseousness, blessed with the looks of a young Peter Fonda.
What is unlikely is his sheer obsession with sex. Until the late 80s you could count on pulp lyrics for pure weirdness. (Dogs Are Everything). Unrequited love (I want you wishful thinking) and paranoia all ends up. Suddenly, starting with my legendary girlfriend in 1989, their songs became obsessively carnal, possibly peaking with babies and your sisters clothes. No question, the boy’s a slave to love.
Although different class, the fifth pulp album, has a putative agenda “the class system in the late 90s”, Cocker still can’t keep his mind off the topic that makes him prince’s only rival In the libidinous lyric stakes. Lyrically, therefore, it’s a schizophrenic affair, but you’d have to be a fool or a lo-fi obsessive not to concede that it’s easily the closest that pulp have come to releasing their potential. Where His ‘N Hers sounded like a collection of excellent songs rattling around inside an empty baked bean tin ( and that was their best production to date), Different Class is curiously sparse yet lush enough in all the right places, warm and soulful where necessary electro-clutter used to be.
Mis-Shapes, opening track and current single, is a lyrical throwback to their freaks period, only this time Pulp are celebrated eccentrics rather than carry on- meets-Third Reich weirdos they were 10 years ago. The ultra-naff lyric cant be entirely serious (“Brothers, sisters can’t you see/The future’s owned by you and me”), but the musical base-Frankie Valli’s The night and ghostly echoes of Wigan Casino mutating into a climactic Spanish guitar frenzy-is exquisite. The now notorious “Sorted for E’s and Whiz” and “Disco 2000” are prime examples of why Pulp will never be swallowed whole by the trad-rock enthusiasts in the way that Oasis and Blur are.
Sorted is the most obvious and impressive dissection of today’s yoof, a cautionary drug tale that opts for a beautifully disorientating fairground swirl, eerily childlike , to get it’s message home. Melodically, it leans a little on Leo Sayer’s moonlighting-I dunno, but making something truly great from something irredeemably awful seems a far better idea to me than recycling acknowledged, unbeatable classics. Disco 2000 takes us back again to some gruesome Barnsley bedroom (“very small, with woodchip on the wall”) via a verse half inched from Laura Branigan’s Gloria and a euphoric sub-spector chorus. Get Roy Wood in to do a mix and-hoopla!-instant Xmas top 3 material.
A more obvious choice for the next single would be “Something Changed”. Goffin and King-let alone Ray Davies-would be proud of this one. It’s that elegant, that moving. Meanwhile, “I Spy” casts Jarvis as some vengeful spirit in a Tim Burton movie. Like a giant straddling the city of Sheffied, he sneers at all the poor sods whose wives/sisters/mothers he’s been shagging without them knowing. All the while he’s rambling on about his Kermit like past.- “I used to compose my own critical notices in my head…imagining a blue plaque above the first place I ever touched a girls chest Six minutes long, I spy is out and out nasty.
Best of all is “Underwear”, starring Jarvis as the jealous onlooker whose lust-object gives herself (oh jesus) to someone she can barely stand. At it’s most heartbreaking moment, Jarvis cries “I’d give my whole life to see it, just you stood there in your underwear” and you know it to be true. Intensely emotional, underwear, more than any other song, gives credence to those who believe Jarvis Cocker to be heir to Orbison and Pitney.
The album ends somewhat disappointingly with “Monday Morning” and “Bar Italia”, both of which are 90s lifestyle members both presumably mirroring Jarvis’s current London based exploits. Musically their fine, but lyrically there’s a hollow ring: clubbing every night, too wasted to order a cappuccino at six in the morning. Its all a bit bored rock star, really you can’t write about your trout farm, can you? Opined La Cocker in MOJO 23-let’s hope he has a few more meaningful experiences before album six.
Still, this is nit-picking. I haven’t even mentioned the Brel like “Live Show” with its heartbreaking chord changes, or “Feeling Called Love” -the latest in the legendary girlfriend/Sheffield sex city narrative series. And then there’s the single “Common People”. Fifty minutes on and it dawns on you where the album title really comes from. Arguments about Blur versus Oasis are irrelevant. Pulp are in a different class.
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