Different Class


Island Records, 1995


REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


“Free your mind and your ass will follow,” preaches Funkadelic. It goes without saying that some of the best protest music conveniently doubles as dance music. From James Brown’s “Say It Loud (I’m Black And I’m Proud)” to Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power,” getting people to move on the dance floor is one step closer to activism – you’re off the couch and on the dance floor. Now go on to step 2. Even Nine Inch Nails took some pointers when he did “Head Like A Hole,” a song that may not be geared toward anything specific, but seems perfectly at home at a massive march against anything from bombing campaigns to Wal-Mart.

Pulp’s more confrontational songs on Different Class were perfectly suited for the dance floor. Candida Doyle’s keyboards and organs didn’t overpower the guitar work of Mark Webber and Jarvis Cocker, but they were present enough to provide a dance-oriented beat. Cocker, a phenomenal songwriter, opts to write less about specific incidents and focus on the universal theme of the haves verses the have-nots.

On the great opener “Mis-Shapes” Cocker summons the energies of Bryan Ferry, David Bowie and my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Nick Cave with his dry, sharp delivery. “We want your homes, we want your lives, we want the things you won’t allow us,” sounds like a manifesto by Fight Club’s Tyler Durban. However, the music’s sophistication keeps Cocker’s rant from wallowing in self-pity.

If Noel Gallagher, Damon Albarn and Richard Ashcroft were in free rotation on the cover of magazines hailing the new British invasion in the mid-1990s, Jarvis Cocker was the elder statesman, comfortably just a few steps away from the limelight. He used cheeky humor (“I kissed your mother twice and now I’m working on your dad”) in trying to woo a taken girl in “Pencil Skirt” and be wide-eyed sincere in a song like “Something Changed.” However, his biggest gift was his ability to set the background in a story with only the first line of a song. “I wrote this song two hours before we met / I didn’t know your name or what you looked like yet,” opens “Something Changed.” “Well we were born within an hour of each other / Our mothers said we could be sister and brother ‘ Your name is Deborah,” opens the bouncing “Disco 2000.” Both are as simple as a diary entry, but with both songs, the listener is automatically engaged in the characters in the song.

Cocker and the band’s finest minutes come with “Common People.” The song’s power lies in that it’s not a protest song as much as a rant. The first third of the song subtlety builds with Doyle’s keyboards and Cocker’s weary baritone. The characters meet and the female character (who studied sculpture at St. Martin’s college) casually says she wants to be with common people, sleep with common people. The scene moves to a supermarket and Cocker’s character cautions the college student “Are you sure you want to live like common people?” By the second chorus, Cocker’s caution goes to sarcasm and mocking.  By the third chorus, that sarcasm goes to spitting rage. This is helped by Nick Banks’ propulsive drumming as Cocker sings “And 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.”

Different Class is arguably the most ‘arty’ of all the major albums of the mid-‘90s British invasion. In the liner notes, readers are given instructions not to read the lyrics while listening to the recordings. It’s for the best, as the music is as compelling as the lyrics. It’s also for the best because each song could double as a novella, which is why Different Class seems like a collection of short stories, masking as a great album.

Rating: A-

User Rating: A


© 2006 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Island Records, and is used for informational purposes only.