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Squalid, Seedy, Desperate.... Superb.
on 21 January 2004
For those not gullible or stupid enough to buy into the whole media-led Battle of Blur/Oasis nonsense of 1995/96, there were other bands to listen to. This was my first year at university, and it seemed that every corridor in every Hall of Residence resonated to the sound of either (What's The Story) Morning Glory or Different Class. As great and enjoyable as the former was, despite being proclaimed by many as a genius, at the end of the day Noel Gallagher's lyrics were incoherent gibberish. If you're a lyrics person who likes to get lost in the vivid world to which the words and music take you, then Pulp were the obvious popular alternative.
And it really couldn't get more vivid than the world to which Jarvis Cocker took us. Cynical and disillusioned, squalid and depraved, funny and sad, joyful and desperate ' if you could step inside the album you would most likely find yourself leaning against a urine-soaked wall on a rainy street corner on a run-down Sheffield housing estate, watching its impoverished inhabitants eke out their dead-end existence with no hope or escape, only drink, drugs, seedy casual sex and mindless violence providing any distraction from the bleakness of it all.
Depressing as this vision is, Different Class is by no means a depressing listen. Whilst it has its moments of desperate, lonely sadness (Live Bed Show), pathetic, forlorn longing (Disco 2000, Underwear) and sordid depravity (Pencil Skirt, I Spy), there are also uplifting moments of defiance and righteous anger, all of which is wonderfully underscored by Cocker's spiky wit. Opening track Mis-Shapes is a rallying cry for anyone who has ever been made to suffer for standing out from the herd, whilst Common People ' the classic for which Pulp will always be remembered ' rages magnificently against those who attempt to be fashionably working class. There is tenderness too ' Something Changed is simply lovely.
Pulp had already been around for a long time before Different Class was released, and this album represents them at the absolute pinnacle of their game. The perfect album for its time, it rose above the frenzied hype and media manipulation that surrounded the Britpop era, and perhaps serves as the most powerful and articulate example of the music produced during this period. It speaks to the secret dark side in all of us of which we are uncomfortably aware but would prefer not to acknowledge, especially to other people. Cocker is forthright and unabashed in sharing his with us to superb (if occasionally unsettling) effect.
I can get as misty-eyed as everyone else of my generation at the sound of Wonderwall or Don't Look Back In Anger ' after all, they were hits at the same time, I like them very much and they provoke very fond memories of my student days. But ultimately they are meaningless and have nothing to say. There's nothing at all wrong with that, of course. But to hear a song that takes you on a vivid lyrical journey to a very unpleasant place in all its stark, dank, grimy squalor and thoroughly enjoy the ride as well as appreciate the message is an all too rare experience. Different Class achieves this with practically every track. As an album, it is a must-have for anyone's collection. As a document of the 'Cool Britannia' period (which, again, was purely a media creation in the first place) it is invaluable ' proof that not all British rock stars of that time were drunken loutish neanderthals. And as a reminder of my first year at university' utterly indispensible.