One of the most distinctive aspects of Britpop, both in its music and its culture, was the curious combination of superficial amusement with quivering angst and apprehension. No album epitomises this trademark characteristic more than Different Class. On this, their fifth album, Pulp had expanded on past formulas and mastered their theatrical brand of satirical pop. They had released good records prior, particularly His ‘N Hers, but this was where everything fell into place.
The hooks are irresistibly catchy, the music is adventurous, and Jarvis Cocker’s vocals are astonishingly good, though not exactly in the traditional sense. To merely brand him a singer would be a disservice: he’s as much a narrator, delving into the stories of different characters, of which most revolve around social class and sex. These songs seem light-hearted on the surface, but make no mistake: this is a sleazy record. Cocker’s words are sultry and provocative, his delivery sensuous and alluring. Nobody does it better.
It’s not just about ol’ Jarv, of course. It’s a great testament to the songwriting that Different Class still sounds so ridiculously good in 2018. Most of the records released by Pulp’s peers haven’t aged so well. There’s a whole bunch of reasons why, but it’s ultimately because the songwriting, production, and sequencing is just not as good as this. “Common People” and “Disco 2000” are immense pop tunes, the former standing as the quintessential Britpop anthem, but I’m quite confident that almost every song here could have been a hit single. Pulp nail the pop/rock formula to near perfection, and the result is so utterly listenable, albeit in a very British manner. The themes of Different Class aren’t necessarily cheerful — in fact they’re mostly very cynical — yet the album sounds like a celebration from beginning to end.
Well, almost the end. My sole criticism is that the record loses momentum towards the conclusion. It deserves a closer on the level of “Champagne Supernova”, and I don’t think “Bar Italia” is close to getting there. Thankfully, this doesn’t prevent Different Class from fulfilling its full potential. Morning Glory has mammoth hits, but the album isn’t as consistently fantastic as this, and as good as Parklife is, there’s a certain novelty about it. Ultimately, this was Britpop’s finest hour. Unless you count The Bends, of course.
9 out of 10
Different Class has a gift for sounding like Britpop while also making most Britpop sound rubbish in comparison. The soaring choruses, the la la las, the acute class consciousness — all the hallmarks are there, and they’re all the better for being delivered by Jarvis Cocker. His offbeat lyricism sits so well throughout that it’s easy to forget how impressive it is that it works at all. Jangling pop-rock probably isn’t the natural bedfellow of spoken-word musings on knickers and trust fund babies, but you wouldn’t know it listening to Different Class.
Pulp pushed the limits of just how dry pop could be. At the best of times it’s hard to tell if you’re in on the joke or being strung along for the ride. It’s wicked fun, but I wonder if that’s also why I can’t get into the album beyond a certain point. This is some of the best — possibly the best — music Britpop has to offer, but that’s still like being the most dignified person at a dog show. Even in pushing beyond the boundaries of its genre, Different Class betrays its own limitations. Anthems like “Common People” and “Disco Whatever” are iconic; the album as a whole is entertaining. By the time it’s over I’m just about burnt out by the spectacle put on. It gets into such a rollicking flow that it’s a smidge deflating when it fails to come to a head.
That said, there’s no denying this is essential pop listening, a testament to the unbridled power of weird with a good mix. It’s a wry, saucy lynchpin of ‘90s culture. While Modern Life is Rubbish was British in a way that made me want to apologise to non-Brits and the North, Different Class owes no apologies to anyone. Pulp got their right to be different and used it. Cocker runs the show, the band run riot, and I’ve run out of things to say. It’s true high common art.
8 out of 10
"Different Class is the Britpop album that sits above the rest for me. Quintessentially British without shoving it down your neck, it delivers a collection of long-lasting, catchy instrumentals which complement distinctive, brilliant vocals. Where many of its contemporaries suffered issues with muddy production or stagnated in the four-piece rock-band set up, Different Class brings a menagerie of instrumentation, and a clean, crisp sound to boot.
Even “Common People”, a track that by all rights should be tired and overplayed by now, still sounds excellent. Between the mundane narrative in the lyrics, and the electronically flavoured instrumental that soars towards each chorus, I’ve never found myself bored, regardless of how many times I’ve heard it. Jarvis Cocker’s vocals always manage to steal centre stage, even for my ears which really struggle to focus on the vocalist and prefer to deviate to an instrumental at any chance. Here, however, Jarvis’ combination of whispering, hollering, and snarling keeps me listening intently, and his lyrics are some of the most accessible given their characterful and narrative style.
That’s not to say the instrumentals hide away in the background though, and there are some fantastic moments in the tracklist. While the likes of “Disco 2000” and aforementioned “Common People” are the go-tos for memorable, stonking instrumentals, “F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E” smoulders away for a majority of its play time before exploding into a string-filled chorus and “I Spy” makes for a dramatic, theatrical, almost Bond-esque six-minute excursion. It’s an album I return to again and again for my dose of the Britpop era, and my recent listens have really reignited a love for it."
9 out of 10