Pulp - A Different Class - Deluxe Edition
We just want the right to be different. That's all.
I have a very vivid memory of the first time I experienced the music of Pulp. It was a Saturday afternoon, I was still living at home, where my dad had recently installed Sky and I was gorging myself on MTV when he wasn't watching football. I used to videotape 120 minutes, which showed the original video of Babies, from the Gift release, not the remade (inferior) video that was made for the EP The Sisters. It is not often that a video and a song totally stop you in your tracks, but on this occasion my jaw dropped open. However blown away I was though, I would never have predicted that the gawky, artsy band that I saw that afternoon would go on to become such a crucial part of mid-90's culture, embraced by music fans and populists alike, with little to no compromise.
Of course though, there was a time in the nineties where Jarvis seemed to pop up on every TV show going, making him almost inescapable (something referenced with a wink in the video to Disco 2000). However, he was never short of entertaining, clearly relishing this new found celebrity status. Songs like Common People and the fuss surrounding Sorted for E's and Whizz propelled them firmly into the public consciousness. At the time, A Different Class was hailed as one of the great albums of the year, going on to win the Mercury Music Prize in 1996. It saw Pulp at the height of their power, where for a few brief moments it seemed they could do no wrong.
And it is an album that holds up surprisingly well, especially considering how much a nugget of nineties it truly is. Despite being an album of its time, it still sounds reasonably fresh and full of swagger and a boldness that drained away from the band on their last two releases. This deluxe edition has the original album, remastered, and a second CD of mostly unreleased material - demos, covers and live recordings. As far as the packaging goes though, as nice as it is, it falls short of the original concept where you could swap the pictures and essentially, make up your own mind on the sleeve. This time it comes in a fold-out cardboard case, with some new photography.
Opening track Mis-Shapes sounds as vital and important now as it did then - a rally cry to the underclass, those singled-out by the masses for being different, those people who don't see the need to follow the populist herd. It is a powerful, emotive piece of music, chords building at the climax almost like a Bond theme. The vocal is urgent and passionate, with lyrics that sound sharp and intelligent and also strangely invigorating. Pencil Skirt is a moment of calm before the rush of Common People, a track that has dated somewhat over the years but still an enormous slab-like chunk of music, everything thrown into the mix. I Spy is dark and seedy and slightly bloated, with Disco 2000 (with its rather quaint cry of meeting up in the year 2000) still a great little pop song.
Album highlight for me is Live Bed Show, a song full of dark twists and a ominous drum beat, light guitar and some fantastic keyboards under-scoring the whole number. Better still is Sorted for E's and Whizz, despite the fuss caused at the time this shuffling, almost ramshackle piece of music is Pulp at their finest.
For Pulp fans, the second CD will be a treat, full of demos, most of which have never before seen the light of day. Catcliffe Shakedown is a real oddity, complete with a spoken word section by Jarvis where he declares - "Its not all that bad really, not if you've been living in Bosnia for the last year". Best though is We Can Dance, starting out like Love is in the Air before exploding into a very Pulp chorus. It is reminiscent of the equally underrated Theme From An Imaginary Film by Blur, given an air of grandeur and pomp beyond its merits. Also included on the second CD is a frankly rubbish cover of Whiskey in the Jar, an intriguing version of Disco 2000 with Nick Cave providing pub rock vocals, and Mile End, a jaunty little piece taken from the Trainspotting soundtrack (again nailing itself firmly to a period of cultural history).
This is a great album, only slightly dusty and faded with time. Whilst it belongs firmly to the period in which it was made, there is still much here to entertain, inform, and lift the spirits. Pulp make it all seem so effortless, songs at the time just falling from them like ripe fruit. This new edition goes a long way to give justice to an extremely important and influential collection of songs.