After a dozen years of near-obscurity, Pulp’s fourth album, the 1994 His ‘n’ Hers, propelled their 30-year-old leader Jarvis Cocker from unknown to the tabloid front pages almost overnight.
Pulp were the band of the underdog: the student, the misfit, the quiet, the shy, the bored. Yet they also exuded a weird stylish glamour. Pulp’s music positively sparkled in the way that Roxy’s had twenty years earlier. Combined with the wit of Sparks, they very much hit the spot for me, two years younger than Cocker, but someone who had felt equally disenfranchised by the aspirational mainstream pop of the 80s.
Jarvis’ lyrics related tales of illicit affairs, failed romances, bored teenagers, bored housewives, chance encounters, beds with secrets, class war, and babies. All sung by a lanky, geeky chap in a slightly flared velvet suit and lime-green shirt, with a Sheffield accent and the stagecraft of a drunken show-off at a wedding reception. It was an unlikely cocktail that couldn’t possibly have emerged from fiction.
In the Summer of 1995, I was in a love affair. I was single, she wasn’t. It was very exciting, though we knew it couldn’t last. Pulp’s “David’s Last Summer” seemed uncannily appropriate: “We made our way slowly down the path that led to the stream, swaying slightly… it was a real summer's day… walking to parties whilst it's still light outside. Peter was upset at first…”
Her husband was called Peter — it was as if Jarvis knew what was going on. He was the first pop star to write songs that I felt were written specifically for me since Pete Shelley had articulated my teenage angst fifteen years earlier. Why, I even married someone called Deborah — although the name suits her.
The next album Different Class was the first record in years that I rushed to buy on its day of release. It was even better — a masterpiece of suburban observation and attention to detail.
My playlist starts with the “bang” of the ear-candy dancefloor sparklers from His ‘n’ Hers, then sprinkles in some early tracks as we manoeuvre through Different Class, This Is Hardcore and We Love Life, and concludes with their 2013 comeback/farewell single “After You”, the incredible “Sunrise”, the final track of their final album and, of course, the supreme class war anthem “Common People”.
Pulp eventually ran its course, but Jarvis remains a Man of His People. I count myself included.