Before his band launch into ‘Disco 2000’, Jarvis Cocker offers a lament for a millennium that promised so much but delivered so little. ‘We thought we’d grow genitals out of the side of our legs,’ he professes. The example is typically venereal and a bit gross, but his shattered optimism is relatable to any millennial or unemployed graduate in the crowd. Twelve years past ‘Disco 2000’ and seventeen since Different Class itself came out, Pulp’s best work feels more relevant than ever for all the wrong reasons.
Britpop often fed off rose-tinted nostalgia for what Britain was, Pulp were unique as a band who examined what Britain was going to be. Children of Sheffield, a mining city that championed Socialism in One City, and wary of Blair before it was fashionable, Pulp’s Different Class is an album that deals with the intersection where nostalgia meets anger. A kitchen-sink pop-opera about life on the margins, where the future never arrived for a rogue’s gallery of would-be Don Juans and misfits (raised on a diet of broken biscuits), if it didn’t already exist you’d have to invent it for the unemployed and the underemployed of austerity Britain.
The album’s voyeuristic tales of betrayed futures are often private ones: ‘Disco 2000’ is a uniquely desperate and panicked ode to lost love, the sound of someone casting their eyes over their past and realizing they fucked it all up; ‘Live Bed Show’ sketches the decline of a relationship from the perspective of a tatty old bed, but Different Class stresses the personal as political. As the title suggests, there’s an anthropological element to the album. Class consciousness is most acute in the margins – the album’s cover art links the voyeur/outsider point by depicting alien outsiders intruding into scenes of aspiration as monochrome cut-outs, unable to fit in – and ‘Common People’ and ‘I Spy’ sit at the heart of album as the moments where outsiders respectively achieve class consciousness and engage in a fantasia of sexual climbing as guerilla warfare in a class war already lost.
When Cocker howls ‘you will never understand what it means to live to life your life with no meaning or control,’ he’s trapped between working class pride and the realization that things aren’t what they were promised to be; that he can’t call his dad to stop it all. The way its measured spoken-word monologue and krautrock-ish drone gives way to caterwauling guitars sounds like a riot. More authentic and bracing than cider-selling Plan B’s topical proleface, Different Class is the sound of a class bearing its teeth, threatening revolution, but instead pulling back and instead snarling: ‘Take your year in Provence and shove it up your ass!’
The future and the Olympics being what they are, a flag-waving Britpop band headlining the closing ceremony concert was inevitable. The 90s were a happier time. And the choice of Blur is telling. Their garden-variety nostalgia leaves feathers unruffled. ‘Country House’ and ‘Park Life’ portray past visions of Britain as authentic as Fish’n’Chips and Carry On films. It’s a fantasy rendered by Hollywood that betrays reality. But why live in the world when you can live in your head?