Pulp: Different Class

Along with Blur's Parklife, it remains the high point of the Britpop era; music, lyrics, production, artwork, it's as perfect as it gets, one that I, personally, will never, ever tire of hearing.


Different Class

Label: Island
US Release Date: 1996-02-27
UK Release Date: 1995-10-30

The first time I ever heard Pulp's "Common People" was sometime in the autumn of 1995. Over the previous two years, I had started to gravitate more and more from American indie rock to the smarter, more brash music coming out of the UK at the time. There was Blur's classic Parklife, Oasis' surprisingly confident Definitely Maybe, Elastica's scorching debut, PJ Harvey's best album in To Bring You My Love, Mad Professor's spectacular remix of Massive Attack's Protection, and Tricky's dark, murky Maxinquaye. It was truly a thrilling time for new music, but it was the vibrant, dryly humorous video for "Common People" that stopped me dead in my tracks. The video, so cheeky, the lyrics, so cutting, the tune ... so unbelievably catchy.

Pulp's 1995 masterpiece Different Class would not be released in America until late February of 1996, but those of us in Canada were lucky enough to be able to get our hands on it a few months earlier. After an extended period of hemming and hawing (something I'd regret soon enough), I bought the album in early January 1996, and I must have played that album every single day that year; it truly defined my year, and no new album since has had such a profound effect on yours truly as that one did.

So what was it about Different Class that has so much appeal? At first glance, there's the brilliant pop art of the album cover, featuring cardboard cutouts of the band placed in urban, suburban, and rural settings (on vinyl versions, each photo could be used as the album's cover, resembling a slide show). There are the snarky little slogans that pepper the record sleeve and CD booklet: "Please understand. We don't want no trouble." Once you put the music on, you'd be hit by a big, grand, epic style sound, produced by Chris Thomas, a confident melange of British rock, new romantic keyboards, and David Bowie-esque glam rock. All that is great, but the real clincher would be that tall, scrawny fop in a scruffy suit named Jarvis Cocker.

Several years older than his Britpop peers, Cocker became the unlikeliest pop icons. An emaciated, lanky, thrift shop version of Brian Ferry, he exuded charm, fashion, sexuality, and most importantly, a wicked sense of humor. The most gifted pop lyricist of the last 15 or 20 years, his songs were superbly composed narratives (so well written, the lyrics were always presented as complete sentences) of everyday life in Britain at the time. On Different Class, much like Mike Leigh, director of such great films as High Hopes, Life Is Sweet, Naked, and Secrets and Lies, Cocker displayed an uncanny ability to skewer bourgeois culture, lionize working class folk, and find transcendence and love amidst the mundane, drab life of lower class Britannia.

"Oh we weren't supposed to be, we learnt too much at school now we can't help but see that the future that you've got mapped out is nothing much to shout about," sings Cocker on "Mis-Shapes", the album's fiery opening track, an unflinching swipe at the phony, baseless optimism that twentysomethings refused to be duped by. Despite that generational rallying cry, he's no spokesman, as he turns his attention to rave culture on the hilarious "Sorted for E's & Wizz", climaxing with Cocker's tongue-in-cheek denouement: "This hollow feeling grows and grows and grows and grows, and you want to phone your mother and say 'Mother, I can never come home again 'cos I seem to have left an important part of my brain somewhere, somewhere in a field in Hampshire.'"

Then there's "Common People", Pulp's best loved song. A flawless marriage of dance pop and glam rock, Cocker lambastes rich people who enjoy "slumming" in shabbier neighborhoods, singing, "Still you'll never get it right 'cos when you're laid in bed at night watching roaches climb the wall, if you called your dad he could stop it all." Meanwhile, the lush pop arrangement is relentless, building and building to euphoric heights, driven by the propulsive drumming of Nick Banks. This glorious anthem climaxes with the impassioned declaration, "You will never understand how it feels to live your life with no meaning or control and with nowhere left to go. You are amazed that they exist and they burn so bright whilst you can only wonder why."

Cocker's views on love vary; they take on a tragicomic quality on songs like "Pencil Skirt" ("I've kissed your mother twice and now I'm working on your Dad"), "Live Bed Show" ("Now every night she plays a sad game. Called pretending nothing's going wrong"), and "Underwear" ("If fashion is your trade then when you're naked you must be unemployed yeah"). The fabulous single "Disco 2000" has the narrator arranging a meeting with a childhood crush over a guitar riff blatantly stolen from Laura Branigan's "Gloria", while the sweet "Something Changed" has Cocker musing about fate and chance, very similar to what Krzysztof Kieslowski did in his 1995 film Red: "When we woke up that morning we had no way of knowing that in a matter of hours we'd change the way we were going. Where would I be now if we'd never met? Would I be singing this song to someone else instead?" On the other side of the coin, there's the dark, passionate "F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E.", where Cocker paints one of the most perfect portraits of lovesickness you'll ever hear, narrating, "All the stuff they tell you about in the movies, but this isn't chocolate boxes and roses -- it's dirtier than that, like some small animal that only comes out at night."

The dark, paranoid "I Spy" ranks as Cocker's greatest achievement as a songwriter, as he shows a cunning, ugly side that is both disarming and enthralling. Over a gloomy, orchestral, Nick Cave style arrangement, Cocker broods and seethes, much like the anti-hero Johnny from Mike Leigh's Naked, as he sneers, "Can't you see a giant walks among you seeing through your petty lives? Do you think I do these things for real? I do these things just so I survive ... It may look to the untrained eye, I'm sitting on my arse all day, I'm biding time until I take you all on." He then addresses a more specific subject, almost whispering, as if goading a bloke into a fight, "I've been sleeping with your wife for the past 16 weeks, smoking your cigarettes, drinking your brandy, messing up the bed that you chose together." The song climaxes with arguably Cocker's greatest ever line, as his loathing reaches a boiling point: "I can't help it, I was dragged up. My favourite parks are car parks, grass is something you smoke, birds are something you shag. Take your Year in Provence and shove it up your ass." Still, the shallow, upper class life appeals to him deep down ("Your Ladbroke Grove looks turn me on"), despite the fact that he can see the emptiness underneath all the gloss: "With roach burns in designer dresses, skin stretched tight over high cheek-bones, and thousands of tiny dryness lines beating a path to the corners of your eyes." The song tries to end on a positive note, as Cocker pledges to take the object of his desire away from all the phoniness ("I will take you from this sickness, dinner parties and champagne. I'll hold your body and make it sing again."), but as it fades out, you feel it's nothing more than another empty promise, Cocker seeming to prefer misanthropy to happiness, as you envision him walking away alone, shoulders hunched, down a rainy street at night.

Nearly nine years after its release, Different Class has aged very well, possessing that timeless quality that is present in all classic albums, but is still obviously a product of its time, a snapshot of mid-'90s life in the UK. Along with Blur's Parklife, it remains the high point of the Britpop era; music, lyrics, production, artwork, it's as perfect as it gets, one that I, personally, will never, ever tire of hearing.

The album concludes with "Bar Italia", as it depicts a couple staggering home on a Monday morning after a weekend of nonstop clubbing, as people race in the opposite direction to work, as Cocker muses dryly, "You're looking so confused, what did you lose? Oh, it's OK -- it's just your mind." Cocker's ultimate message in Different Class is, don't just sit there, go live a little. Go nuts once in a while. In essence, be yourself, think for yourself. Life is too short. As Charles Bukowski once said, "Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must lead."


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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