Pulp were late bloomers, having made music for nearly 20 years before getting the recognition they deserved as one of the most important British bands of our time. The Sheffield group, led by clever frontman Jarvis Cocker, formed in 1978, but their career finally took off in the mid-'90s, thanks to the acclaim and success of His 'n' Hers (1994) and then a year later, with Different Class (1995), their fifth and most celebrated album. The best Pulp record is interchangeable between the two, but the significance and influence of the latter is worthy of note, as it turns 20 this Oct. 30. While Blur and Oasis were feuding for the No. 1 spot in the summer of 1995, it was actually Pulp quietly rising to the top. It's even in the title of their album: Pulp really were in a different class.
Slow start aside, Pulp peaked at the pinnacle of the Britpop movement and became the very embodiment of Britpop. What makes Cocker's brand of crooning wordsmithery so important to the genre is that he really captured the ennui and frustration of middle-class youth. He sang for people like himself—common people, as their hit single would have it—those raised on a diet of broken biscuits, those who would drink and dance and screw because there's nothing else to do. The opening track on Different Class served as the record's thesis: "Mis-Shapes" rebelled against the airhead rich kids, immediately putting Pulp in the team of the "other," or rather, a different class. "Check your lucky numbers/That much money could drag you under, oh/What's the point of being rich/If you can't think what to do with it?" Jarvis Cocker sings between choruses about making moves, coming out of the sidelines, and using "the one thing we've got more of—that's our minds." The opening track waged an us vs. them war, and Pulp made it exciting to be a misfit.
"They think they've got us beat, but revenge is going to be so sweet," snarls Cocker, before the second track, "Pencil Skirt," cues up—an anthem about screwing over the rich by, literally, screwing their wives. Cocker promises to be there "when he's not in town" and "show you how you're doing it wrong." They're not rich, but they can certainly fuck better, is what he seems to be saying. (He's probably not wrong.) Just two songs later, Pulp's seedy "I Spy" touches on the same topic, as he sings, "I've been sleeping with your wife for the past 16 weeks/Smoking your cigarettes, drinking your brandy/Messing up the bed you chose together/And in all that time I just wanted you to come home unexpectedly one afternoon/And catch us at it in the front room." "I specialize in revenge," he emphasizes once again. Sex has always been one of Pulp's greatest assets. Cocker has been naturally gifted with the ability to seduce by whispering sweet nothings, between moans and hip swishes from his lanky figure, his fingers always curled in that come-hither sort of way. For any common listener, Pulp's sex was sexy, making it one of the irresistible appeals of Different Class.
With "Common People," Pulp's most famous track, the band married their two biggest topics of interest—sex and class—in a fun dancefloor number. Cocker sings about a rich girl he meets who tries out "slumming," a.k.a. class tourism. You probably know how the chorus goes, sung from her point of view: "I want to live like common people/I want to do whatever common people do/I want to sleep with common people/I want to sleep with common people like you."
Pulp criticized those who romanticized poverty, clapping back, "Everybody hates a tourist/Especially one who thinks it's all such a laugh." This "us vs. them" runs deeper than just a trial week; he does make a point when he says, "Watching roaches climb the wall, if you called your dad he could stop it all." Ironically, Jarvis Cocker didn't help the case by making the un-posh sexier than ever before.
But Pulp didn't only sing about working class woes. They also nailed the achingly sentimental ("Something Changed") as well as the tragically romantic ("Underwear"). "Sorted for E's & Wizz," inspired by a girl's adventures of ecstasy and speed at a music festival, drolly alludes to the youth's idiotic ways. Different Class time-capsuled the '90s middle-class English life, with the ups and downs, and all those hookups and hangovers in between.
Above all, Different Class was fun as hell—and still is. Why shouldn't it be? If we're gonna dance and drink and screw, might as well have some fun while at it. They captured discotheque catchiness best with "Disco 2000," a nostalgic trip down memory lane about a schoolgirl crush—a could-have-been lover—and the prospect of meeting her again in the future. "Let's all meet up in the year 2000," he sings. Well, the year 2000 was the future then. Early this year, Deborah, the woman who inspired the song, passed away, but she lives on in the legacy of "Disco 2000," which remains Different Class's doe-eyed could-have-been. Certain details of the album may be outdated (or outlandishly British, even) but the way Jarvis Cocker and co. captured the feeling of being bored, young, and living life "with no meaning or control and with nowhere left to go" still speaks deeply to listeners today.