Part 37 of a series that will run every Friday throughout 2012 as I discuss records that have affected me throughout the years – Flashback Fridays
Human sexuality can be such a curious thing. Each one of us walks around with our own little secrets and sexual history. We are secure with the knowledge that each experience is our own, private moments in our memories that no one else can possibly share. Or can they? The world’s population is steadily increasing, so it is pretty clear that other humans are making love, having sex, fucking, or whatever else you want to call it these days. What happens when someone says everything you aren’t supposed to say about sex? You might know someone in your circle of friends (sometimes that is me, I’ll admit) or admire a comedian that walks this dangerous path (Louis C.K. perhaps). How about a record filled with these private moments? Not in the Marvin Gaye, classic “make love” mode. I’m talking about the sexy but creepy guy giving a play-by-play commentary on each move.
Pulp‘s Different Class released in 1995 fits the bill for such depravity. It represents the pinnacle of Pulp’s commercial fortunes (superstars in the UK, not so much in the US) and is also their most consistent record (I hesitate to say creative pinnacle – I really like everything Jarvis Cocker has been involved with). Pulp first hinted at this direction on about half of the tracks on 1992’s Separations. Gone were the indie jam sessions that populated earlier records – instead listeners were treated to pseudo disco rave ups and heartbreaking laments. 1994’s His ‘n’ Hers (most brilliant play on words in history?) continued down this path, with songs increasingly describing the darker underbelly of suburban life and sexuality. When I first heard Different Class I had to play it over and over – I couldn’t quite believe how well crafted the record was. Every vocal tick and swell of orchestral strings seemed perfect. Jarvis Cocker’s lyrics would veer (or is it leer) towards X-rated fare and yet – he’d suddenly bring it back to crooning about love with a knowing wink. Unbelievably brilliant.
The crowd gasps at Cocker’s masterful control of the bicycle…(album breakdown)
Mis-Shapes – acoustic to disco to full on rave in just a matter of a minute. When the full instrumentation comes in it sounds like the speakers will be overwhelmed. Noisy, catchy, and…well…British. This is a distinctly British record (perhaps why Pulp wasn’t huge in the States but had a devoted fan base). Shades of Bowie as filtered through mid 90’s Britpop. Key lyrics:
That the future that you’ve got mapped out is nothing much to shout about.
We’re making a move, we’re making it now,
We’re coming out of the side-lines.
Just put your hands up – it’s a raid.
We want your homes, we want your lives,
we want the things you won’t allow us.
We won’t use guns, we won’t use bombs
We’ll use the one thing we’ve got more of – that’s our minds.
Pencil Skirt – the song that casts a shadow on the rest of the record – at least from a creepiness standpoint. Jarvis Cocker croons sweetly about wanting to sleep with (fuck) a married woman and then describes each and every move. Acoustically based at first but builds to a musical crescendo of noise that is matched by the emotional intensity of Cocker’s vocal performance.
When you raise your pencil skirt like a veil before my eyes
Like the look upon his face as he’s zipping up his flies.
Oh I know that you’re engaged to him.
Oh but I know that you want something to play with baby.
I’ll be around when he’s not in town, I’ll show you how you’re doing it wrong
I really love it when you tell me to stop.
Oh it’s turning me on.
William Shatner‘s (Captain Kirk) version. There is an edge in the words that tends to go over the heads of most because of how catchy the song is. Key lyrics:– the most famous Pulp song with an instantly catchy refrain and perfect vocals. Lyrics resonate as they take the form of a story, with Jarvis recounting how he met a woman who “wants to sleep with common people”. Slightly overplayed (at least in the circle of friends I hung with) it is still an enjoyable slab of Britpop. When you are done listening to it, check out
Sing along with the common people, sing along and it might just get you thru’
Laugh along with the common people
Laugh along even though they’re laughing at you and the stupid things that you do.
Because you think that poor is cool.
I Spy – A song that sounds like something out of a James Bond film – it’s not just a clever name (curiously Pulp would submit a James Bond theme song that was rejected and ended up as a b-side a few years later in ’98). Seductive vocals, oozing sexuality and depravity. The music matches the vocal intensity, shifting with Cocker as he slowly becomes unhinged. By the time we are humming along with the wordless melody of “La la la la la la la la la la”, we are completely sucked in and seduced into this world. Perfection. Key lyrics:
You see you should take me seriously. Very seriously indeed.
Cause I’ve been sleeping with your wife for the past sixteen 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.
You see I spy for a living and I specialise in revenge
On taking the things I know will cause you pain.
Disco 2000 – Britpop guitars introduce the song, slight…um…disco beat to the song. The only thing dated about this song is the title (damn Y2K bug). As it turns out, there was a Deborah in my circle of friends when this track came out – her face comes into my mind every time I hear this. Jarvis does his spoken / sung lyrics trick, spinning a story based on meeting a childhood love in the year 2000 (5 years away at the time and almost 14 years ago). Ridiculously catchy chorus. Key lyrics:
I said let’s all meet up in the year 2000.
Won’t it be strange when we’re all fully grown.
Be there at 2 o’clock by the fountain down the road.
I never knew that you’d get married.
I would be living down here on my own on that damp and lonely
– A heartbreaking account of the dissolution of a relationship – as told from the perspective of a bed and its lack of stories to tell as of late. Brilliant, evocative, and instantly memorable. The way the song builds into a frenzied jam is reminiscent of a few other songs on the record, but this stands on its own. Words are very important to me in music and these words will haunt you for life (well, 17 years and counting). Key lyrics:
This bed has seen it all from the first time to the last
The silences of now and the good times of the past
And it only cost ten pounds from a shop just down the road
Something Changed – Probably the most straightforward song on the record – it has a Beatles styled guitar refrain, swelling strings, and perfectly nuanced vocals. It could be Britpop from the 60’s or the 90’s, it really has a timeless energy that is perfection. “Do you believe that there’s someone up above? / Does he have a timetable directing acts of love?”
Sorted for E’s and Wizz – crowd noise and sound f/x before the song settles into a catchy groove based song. The instrumentation reminds me of fellow Britpop leaders, Blur. Rolling organ drives the melody and noisy synths enter the mix more prominently as the song progresses. The song features a spoken interlude that is very memorable. Key lyrics:
And tell me when the spaceship lands
’cause all this has just got to mean something.
In the middle of the nite, it feels alright, but then tomorrow morning.
Oh then you come down.
F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E – once you get past the most cumbersome song title in Pulp’s catalog, you are left with a dark and experimental electronic masterpiece. Guitar sounds feel like something off of the early Pulp masterpiece (depending on who you are talking to), Freaks. Jarvis mumbles / speaks the opening lyrics as if he is narrating a Barry White song – perfection. When he reaches for his upper register just prior to the chorus it is evocative and affecting. The chorus is an explosive stadium rock styled diversion, but no less stunning for it. Key lyrics:
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.
It’s so cold yeah, it’s so cold.
What is this feeling called love.
Underwear – there is no letdown in quality as the album’s end nears. This is a classic song, emotional vocals as another tale of depravity is spun by Mr. Cocker. At times the vocals reach into a falsetto which provides another level of nuance to the song. A more straightforward guitar sound with this song. Key lyrics:
Why don’t you close the door and shut the curtains
‘cos you’re not going anywhere.
He’s coming up the stairs and in a moment he’ll want to see your underwear.
You couldn’t stop it now. There’s no way to get out.
He’s standing far too near. How the hell did you get here.
Semi-naked in somebody else’s room.
Monday Morning – mysterious vibes with a surf styled guitar carrying the tune. Really should have been a part of the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, it really fits within that soundtrack’s style. Essential. “Oh yeah they say the past must die for the future to be born, in that case die little me – ooh.”
Bar Italia – a fitting closer for the record, low-key start that builds into a 60’s girl group styled song. Resignation and determination both permeate Cocker’s vocal performance. Melodic horns prominent in the mix (somewhat reminds me of a track Antony & the Johnsons would cut years later). All builds up to a guitar interlude before the impassioned vocals make a return. Key lyrics:
Move, move quick, you’ve gotta move.
Come on it’s through, come on it’s time.
Oh look at you, you, you’re looking so confused, what did you lose?
Oh, it’s ok it’s just your mind.
If you haven’t heard this record, I urge you to hunt down a copy and give it a spin – it is stunning. Pulp’s entire catalog is worth checking out, but I’d start with this one – it is a time capsule into the Britpop era of the mid 90’s. Next week I will be away, so join me in two weeks as I discuss Primal Scream’s XTRMNTR.