Saturday, April 7, 2012

Common People

Oh jeez, where to begin with this one, huh? Well, without this song, we probably wouldn’t be talking about Pulp. This blog certainly wouldn’t exist, and the band probably wouldn’t be currently embarking on a rapturously received reunion tour.

Seventeen years after its release, “Common People” is still a tricky thing to unpack. It applies the rage of punk rock to fabulous guitar-pop. It handily encompasses two of Jarvis’ main obsessions – class and sex. The song does this through the story of a Greek art student who expresses to Jarvis a desire to live fashionably poor. This inspires in him a brilliant, sustained rant against anyone who would think to live a life of working-class desperation casually, something for a curious outsider to try on like a trendy, faux-worn shirt.

If I am completely honest, I can’t describe this song better than this blog post by British music writer Dorian Lynskey. I would like to amplify, however, that the key line of the song isn’t when the girl says “I want to sleep with common people like you.” It’s near the end, when Jarvis, at the end of his rope, snaps, “You will never understand.” It’s pained and righteous, even if (or because) in some ways Jarvis’ own feelings about the working class are as confused as the girl’s.

“Common People” is also an example of a band seizing its moment at just the right instant. There are of course many, many YouTube videos related to this song, but here is the band’s famous rendition of the song at Glastonbury in 1995. The BBC documentary, The Story of “Common People” is excellent and required viewing for any Pulp enthusiast.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


I am cheating a bit with this song. This is the only Pulp song I will write about here that is still technically unreleased. But while it’s never appeared on a Pulp album, single, anthology, or a multi-artist compilation, it was used in the Sheffield music documentary The Beat is the Law, a film that features a lot of Pulp info, as well as interviews with Jarvis and other members. Plus, the production company behind the film, Sheffield Vision, has posted the entire song on its YouTube page. So it is released in a way. And I can only assume it was all sanctioned by the band.

“Rattlesnake” was a key Pulp track even before all this, when it was just oft-bootlegged. Recorded at Sheffield’s prestigious FON Studios in 1987, it was the band’s first foray in a professional, state-of-the art facility, with session support from a small string section, to boot. With its rippling acoustic guitars, off-kilter keyboard stabs and Russell Senior’s enthused Euro-folk violin, the track is certainly miles above, fidelity wise, anything off of Freaks. (Plans to release “Rattlesnake” through FON’s label were unfortunately never realized, adding to the band’s streak of bad luck in the ‘80s.)

The track is well-regarded by many Pulp fans as a true lost classic. Like many of their songs from this era, the song is fraught with intrigue and drama, as Jarvis sings about a small quick moment that can suddenly change everything. In the case of “Rattlesnake,” he’s referring to a love affair, and he seems conflicted by intense feelings of both desire and fear; a potent combination, and a testament to Jarvis’ increasing skills as a lyric writer and singer. (It’s also a sign that he’s moved on from the self-indulgent, tone-deaf misery of many Freaks songs.)