The Britpop boom of the mid-90s was not something that was meant to last. This was made readily apparent by the genre’s numerous strong ties to the British culture of the day. Once society had moved on from the issues these bands sung about, the movement began to die a slow death as its artists took on an aurora of irrelevancey. Despite this, one Britpop band managed to transcend the sphere of British culture that birthed them and remain relevant in today’s hectic American culture. That band was Pulp.
Armed with their own brand of disco-influenced Britpop, Pulp carved out a unique lyrical identity for themselves. Despite the band’s numerous odes to failed romances and the wonders of falling in love, they always maintained a strong alignment with working class ideals as frontman Jarvis Cocker was notoriously resentful of the popular politicians of the time.
Such strong political values has lead to the band taking on a legacy vaguely akin to that of working class heroes. Throughout their discography, Pulp wrote many songs that examined the politics from the perspective of the everyday people who were most affected by them. Today, even 25 years after most of those songs were written, they still describe in great detail the struggles of those who feel the effects of the powers at be the strongest.
The band establishes their political standing most blatantly on the song “Mis-shapes”, the second single from their fifth album. The single presents itself as a call to action for society’s disenfranchised misfits and shows a desire to revolt against the alienation they feel has been imposed on them. This rallying call is driven home with lines like “Brothers, sisters, can’t you see/ The future’s owned by you and me/ There won’t be fighting in the street” and “We won’t use guns/we won’t use bombs/We’ll use the one thing we’ve got more of / That’s our minds”.
Today, the song seems like a chronicle of the feelings youth hold toward those who hold power. They see the world as a hectic, chaotic place and they feel this is due to the incompetence of the people running things. They are waiting for their time to take action and work towards making the world a better, safer place and “Mis-shapes” tells them that that time is now.
While “Mis-shapes” is the most upfront about Pulp’s societal message, “Common People” is their perfection of this message. The biggest hit of the band’s career, the song tells the story of a wealthy college student who wants to live like those who are not as financially fortunate as herself. It goes on to explain how her money will never let her live like the song’s namesake with lines like “But still you’ll never get it right/ cause when you’re laid in bed at night/ watching roaches climb the wall/ if you called your dad he could stop it all” and “You will never understand/ how it feels to live your life/ with no meaning or control/ and with nowhere left to go”.
The target of the band’s criticism in this song are those who masquerade as champions of the middle class but are distanced from them by the wealth they possess. This has become something of an epidemic in current American politics. People like Donald Trump and Sean Hannity claim to be the voice of the disenfranchised middle class, but in reality they have no hope of viewing the world from the same perspective as them.
It takes a good band to capture the current feelings of the populace in their work. It takes a great band to keep their discography relevant 25 years after it has written. Pulp accomplished that task with flying colors, as their songs remain just as powerful now as when they were released. Despite their strong ties to the British culture of the 90s, Pulp are as relevant now as they ever have been.