Jarvis Cocker. I’m sorry but a rock singer’s never had a more astute surname. Dude once busted up his very literal pelvis trying to impress a girl. Likewise, there may never be another band besides Pulp better suited to its name unless it’s the Virgins. Cocker wrote off-the-rack characters who had Savile Row sex. Pulp ground together the grungiest dance and the shabbiest porn to make mystery-meat pop that only lugubrious losers or y’know, common people, would ever choke down. It was always a match made in, if not heaven or hell, at least limbo.
If 1994’s His `n’ Hers broke Pulp as the next Stone Roses, the following year’s Different Class broke Cocker as the saturnine spokesman of the shiveringly fey. A series of minor-key dancers and glamaged mood pieces didn’t so much extend His `n’ Hers as it did jack the formula into a sort of down-at-heel hysteria. “Raised on a diet of broken biscuits,” Cocker utters in the opener “Mis-shapes”: “oh, we don’t look the same as you.” It starts off disaffected but around the point he yells “we want your homes/ we want your lives/we want the things you won’t allow us,” bestrewn in glitter-guitar histrionics, there’s a serious revenge-of-the-nerds vibe, albeit nerds in crushed-velvet dinner jackets. Later, on the admittedly `huh?’-inducing “Sorted For E’s And Wizz” Cocker’s on to “is this the way they made the future feel/ or just 20, 000 people standing in a field?” K. If he didn’t make it sound so much like Bonnaroo.
What makes Different Class transcendent among the lush Britpop aphrodisiacs of the period is the grubby fingersplotches Cocker leaves all over his sexual scenarios, the long leer he leaves on lines like “Semi-naked in somebody else’s room/ I’d give my whole life to see it” from “Underwear.” On the deliriously unabashed “Pencil Skirt” he moans “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” over a surfy guitar that hits about an 8 on the Throw-Your-Panties-At-Jarvis meter. With Bryan Ferry, for instance, it was always about seduction. With Cocker it’s more like swooping in after someone else seduces for you. Hanging out in abandoned stairwells, bumming cigarettes, holding his ear to walls, that’s Cocker–a lipstick-bleeding leech.
Of course Pulp’s famed article of faith is “Common People,” the single that guaranteed them a place in the pantheon. It’s also Cocker’s best lyric, a turnabout, frenzied descent through scattered levels of desire. Initially the slumming girl invigorates Cocker’s latent bad taste (“what else could I do/ I said I’d see what I can do“) before frustration kicks in (“smoke some fags and play some pool/ pretend you never went to school/ but still you’ll never get it right“). Then he kicks her to the curb (“you’ll never fail like common people/ you’ll never watch your life slide out of view/ and dance and drink and screw/ because there’s nothing else to do“). Metaphysically, at least. Himself too, actually. He loathes his status but loathes her for treating said status like a role she can slide in and out of. Which, come to think of it, is something Jarvis Cocker understands wholly. Sliding in and…oh, never mind.
Roxy Music – Stranded
Scott Walker – Scott 4
The National – Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers