Pulp make pop music that celebrates the poetry of the everyday@dextermixwith/flicker.com

Jarvis Cocker, Pulp’s weedy, enigmatic frontman writes the kind of lyrics you want to paint on the sides of public buildings. Or, according to Frank Cottrell Boyce ‘should be studied in schools and carved on gravestones’. I can’t remember a time without the presence of their lines, like incantations that never lose their magic, scrawled across my notebooks and hoarded in my subconscious -  probably the first poetry I ever learnt. In a futile attempt to express my boundless adoration for probably my all-time favourite band, I thought about a few of their best.  

‘Is this the light of a new day dawning? A future so bright that you can walk in? No, it’s just another Monday morning – do it all over again’

'Their music makes the most sense on days when you’ve no idea how you feel or what to do, for the days you can’t face getting out of bed'

There was a particularly dreary winter when I listened to this song every Monday Morning – I would try to time Cocker’s grimly inspirational call to arms ‘Stomach in, chest out, on your marks, get set, go’ to the moment I crossed the threshold of my sixth form gates and was subsumed by an anonymous mass of lanyard-wearing teenagers. Underlying Pulp’s music, with its dark psychological narrative and sonic landscape that occasionally disintegrates from structured verse-chorus pop into cacophony, is the calm acceptance of that nameless anxiety that hovers on the periphery of our lives. Strangely, it is this that has always drawn me back to Pulp for comfort. Their music makes the most sense on days when you’ve no idea how you feel or what to do, for the days you can’t face getting out of bed. For, in Cocker’s words, ‘when you can’t even define what it is that you’re frightened of’ which somehow, just by its quiet acknowledgement of that nebulous malaise, is more calming than any escapism.

‘But she didn’t understand, she just smiled and held my hand’

Pulp’s sound emerged from the streets of Sheffield in the 80s and 90s, and their narrative is imbued with rage at, as young working-class people, being trampled on by the politics of the day. They self-identify as ‘misshapes, mistakes, misfits, raised on a diet of broken biscuits’, and in their most enduring track ‘Common People’ they tell a story which would come to haunt academic discourse as ‘the fetishization of the working classes’ about a girl from Central St. Martins who just doesn’t get it. ‘I said ‘pretend you’ve got no money’, she just laughed and said ‘oh, you’re so funny’ and I said ‘yeah, well I can’t see anyone else smiling here’. The story subtly but astutely captures the unbridgeable chasms between the cake-layers of the British class system, a hard-hitting reality disguised in a catchy chorus.

 ‘Now he’s standing far too near, how the hell did you get here – semi-naked in somebody else’s room?’

'these storylines construct a heightened not-quite-reality where everything is topsy-turvy and a bit dark'

But above any socio-political motivation, Pulp are exquisite storytellers. While the rest of us are running out of ways to say things, Cocker unfailingly eschews cliché for something infinitely weirder and infinitely more meaningful. Over their synthy instrumentals a narrative plays out that is relentlessly anti-glamour and anti-romance, with all the awkwardness and discomfort of reality left in. A world where love is ‘a slightly sick feeling in my stomach, like I’m standing at the top of a very high building’ and the closest we come to a rhyming couplet is ‘The lift is always full of piss, the fifth floor landing smells of fish’. Or maybe ‘The trouble with your brother.. he’s always sleeping with your mother’ – these storylines construct a heightened not-quite-reality where everything is topsy-turvy and a bit dark.

‘I know you won’t believe it’s true, I only went with her ‘cos she looks like you’

'Pulp invite us to dance in the twisted glory of everything going wrong – a disco of let downs, fears and mundane worries'

Central to this storytelling is Cocker’s penchant for a subversive punchline. ‘I heard an old girlfriend has turned to the church. She’s trying to replace me, but it’ll never work’. Pulp’s lyrics are steeped in northern gallows-humour, littered with perfectly delivered one liners -  laconic, deadpan, pauses in just the right places. And when Cocker’s sardonic wit and psychological insight coalesce, the kitchen-sink poetry of Pulp hits the hardest: ‘Like an own-brand box of cornflakes, he’s going to let you down, my friend’.


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The oddity that is Pulp culminates in their music videos – all eerily Twin Peaks technicolour disco dancefloors and poorly applied eyeliner; cementing their wry cynicism towards everything, but never taking themselves seriously. Pulp invite us to dance in the twisted glory of everything going wrong – a disco of the let downs, fears and mundane worries that normally elude the sparkly, sanitised narratives of pop music. As the years blur by, I can’t get them out of my head. In school, their universe represented an escape – reassuring me that there was more to life than a sea of swishy blonde ponytails and friends’ expensive houses where you weren’t allowed to touch the curtains. Now, sitting shivering on a wall at 2am with sweaty hair and smudged make up, ears ringing from the sensory overload of a tacky club, I gaze hazily at my friends and smile. ‘Won’t it be strange when we’re all fully grown’.

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