- by Kevin Orton Rating:10 Release Date:1995-10-30 Label: Island
Pulp’s 1995 album, Different Class is remarkable for several reasons. For one, it’s whip-smart Pop. For another, it's deft satire. It’s also the breakthrough for a band that had been flitting about for seventeen years. While they often get associated with the Britpop movement that catapulted Blur and Oasis, they were never really part of that scene. Which might explain why they stood apart. Regardless, after the highly acclaimed, His ‘n Hers, they suddenly shot out into the spotlight with Different Class. With a vengeance.
Allegedly, Jarvis Cocker wrote most of Different Class in a 48-hour burst of creativity. Regardless of how true that is, the album remains an enduring and scathing indictment of inequality. Beneath its glamourous Pop, ‘Common People’ is a complete evisceration of privilege. It's not just a case of rich girl slumming boy for how the other half lives. Its working-class boy becoming painfully aware of how fucked he is in the scheme of things. It's about learning the awful truth. There is no mobility. No level playing field. The Have’s will never give the Have-Not’s a leg up, merely exploit them to their advantage. To say it still resonates today is an understatement.
‘Mis-Shapes’ is a rallying cry of for social rejects everywhere, “They think they got us beat but revenge is going to be so sweet,” Cocker prophesizes. Perhaps, sensing it’s more wishful thinking than truth. Regardless, ‘Mis-Shapes’ sets the scene for characters to come. Outsiders they may be, yet just as flawed as the defects they condemn in society. At best, quirky, arty and intellectual. At worst, self-consciously snobbish, covetous and boorish. When not defiantly nerdy, creepily neurotic. Chockful of empathy and bile. In other words, inescapably human.
If you thought ‘Pencil Skirt’ was going to be an epistle to unrequited love, Cocker is having none of it. What ensues is a leering, wince-inducing exercise in middle-aged lechery. The soaring, ‘Disco 2000’ may be a love song but of the J. Alfred Prufrock variety. “We were friends but that’s as far as it went,” Cocker laments. Elsewhere, ‘Live Bed Show’ is a beautiful song full of the ugliest emotions
‘Something Changed’ is an album standout. A stunning Pop ballad, ironically devoid of irony. Musing on how the most trivial of moments can forever change you. And where ‘I Spy’ and other songs revel in the voyeuristic, ‘F.E.E.L.I.N.G. C.A.L.L.E.D. L.O.V.E ‘ surrenders completely to the mad notion of romance, even if, “It’s not convenient…It doesn’t fit my plans’.
Another highlight is, ‘Sorted For E’s and Wizz’. After the ecstasy wears off, our narrator gets the nagging feeling he hasn’t been born into a society so much as a prison. Meanwhile, the damsel in her ‘Underwear’ finds herself in another kind of prison. Nor is it an entirely non-consensual situation. And while our narrator frets over our ingenue’s plight, he also secretly harbors the knowledge that if circumstances were different, he might eagerly be capable of taking advantage.
We hit the home stretch with ‘Monday Morning’ before, ‘Bar Italia’ bids us a world-weary farewell in the tradition of Bowie’s, ‘Rock & Roll Suicide’. In terms of influences, fashionably chic retro nods to Serge Gainsbourg and Scott Walker abound. Toes are dipped in Bowie and Roxy Glam, as well as the kitchen sink drama of The Smiths. ‘Disco 2000’ owes much to such heady works such as Laura Branigan’s, ‘Gloria’. Lyrically, Cocker not only studied at the school of Ray Davies’ wry sarcasm, he passed the exam with flying colors.
Without a doubt, Different Class is Pulp’s masterpiece. Beneath the album’s bubbly Pop exterior lies not only sharp satire but real outrage. This Is Hardcore would follow and while Pulp certainly capitalized on their breakthrough, they also gloriously slipped into excess. It’s a great album about the trappings of fame but with Different Class Pulp remain outsiders looking in. Here they are at their peak. Not only clever but accessible. While they certainly rode the wave of the Britpop boom along with The Verve, Blur, Radiohead, and Oasis, Pulp had something they didn’t: Biting wit and the refreshing ability to not take themselves too seriously. When it came to class, they savaged it---with class.