If that title is incomprehensible to you, well, it’s British slang, innit. Drug slang, to be right proper. Ecstasy and speed, which you have to be all sorted out for, when you’re off to a rave. The delightful part is that this song caused controversy when it was released as a single, with an op-ed in the Daily Mirror calling for a ban and much brow-furrowing about its alleged “pro-drug” message. Such was the outcry that Pulp actually acquiesced to to changing the design of their album art to make it appear less “pro-drug”, while reassuring the public that the message was, if you listened the song at all, decidedly anti-drug. Which just shows how the British press could still, as of 1995, happily get their own and lot of other people’s knickers all knotted up over the alleged content of an utterly innocuous pop song, something they – the British press – have a longstanding reputation for.
Pulp is sadboi music for kids who are too cool to admit they’re sad. They hide their sadness behind postures of indifference, artfully arranged hair and expensive shoes. But they’re so, so sad because they’re always grappling with the harsh reality that all their style and coolness doesn’t make them any more successful at love than any other schmuck. Sadboi music for sadboi hipsters, as it were. An aesthetic I can relate to, in other words.
Ten years ago, I’d never heard of the band Pulp. This despite their heyday being the early 90’s, and their peculiarly British tone of deadpan and melodramatic being right in my personal wheelhouse. Well, live and learn and discover cool new things decades after everyone else has. Anyhow, in my defense, this brand of stylized pop never exactly swept the United States, no matter how much Union Jack prints may have trended. Irony and intelligence are not much valued here, unfortunately. Americans like naked sex appeal coupled with phony wholesomeness. America was never going to elevate Jarvis Cocker – a walking undergraduate thesis on male sexual neuroses in stovepipe trousers – to rock superstardom. Their loss, of course.
Everyone knows Tom Jones’ hit She’s a Lady. This is not that song, because that song sucks. This is Pulp, juicily riffing on another overripe dancefloor hit, Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive. Gaynor’s song has improbably shorn off disco’s smell of sweat and stale cocaine to become an evergreen anthem of empowerment. So of course the one thing it needed was to reimagined as the hormonal ramblings of a neurotic English twit. Jarvis Cocker was a leading voice of 1994’s Cool Britannia pack, and he managed to make his perverse and neurotic persona look very charming and attractive, probably because he looked so good in stovepipe trousers. It’s magical how you can practically hear the flop sweat and shaking hands, but you still want to follow him back to his bedsit. Hey, not everyone can make pop poetry out of bad sex and morning-after regret. What’s Brit-speak for “Oh, you irresistible proto-fuckboy”?
I just started listening to Pulp about a year ago. They’re one of the great bands of the 90’s, so of course I’d never heard their music. I can’t be too embarrassed for not being familiar with a band that peaked around the time I was 12, but I am slightly ashamed I didn’t discover them earlier in my adulthood. Apparently a thing called Britpop happened in the early 90’s, and some pretty great bands came out of it, along with an accompanying wave of Cool Britannia fashion, and I completely missed it and still know next to nothing about the phenomenon. Funny how the history that actually occurred within your lifetime is the hardest to learn about. Anyway, here’s Pulp, specializing in a particularly British brand of well-dressed disaffection. The gist I’m getting here is: sex, self-loathing, class resentment and an eye for just the right hemline. I can get behind all of those things.
I missed out on 90’s Britpop. If I had been a little bit older and a little bit less isolated, I most likely would have been a Pulp fan right then and there. But on account of being a child, and in the wilds of nowhere at that, I had only the vaguest awareness that there was such a thing as Britpop, or that any part of it could be worthwhile. Cool Britannia wasn’t exactly overrunning the rural Appalachian hill-slums in 1995. So that’s my excuse for never having listened to Pulp until a few months ago. Because of course it’s surprising given my taste for British people, skinny suits and misanthropy. But better late than never…