A band that performed its first show in '80 would likely be well past their prime by the mid-90s. Trends, band dynamics and a fading artistic muse would have taken a toll. But Pulp hit their creative and commercial peak with '94's "His 'n' Hers" and '95's "Different Class." The latter topped the U.K. album chart. In '94, the group was nominated for the coveted Mercury Music Prize and won it two years later becoming Britpop icons. It was however, a long climb.
'83 debut "It" failed commercially, which led frontman Jarvis Cocker to consider a career change but he reconstructed the group instead. Still, it would be four years before Pulp released a follow-up. Part of the problem was Pulp's eclectic nature. While the "kitchen sink" mentality kept things fresh it was hard for potential Pulp fans to get a fix on the band.
"The songs could've been done a lot better if we'd have had a bit more time," Cocker said when sophomore set "Freaks" was released. The album was recorded in a week, due to label pressure, but sat on the shelf for nearly a year before being released. It too failed to electrify the public.
Still struggling with their label, '92's "Separations," was delayed - this appeared to be a pattern. It was only after Pulp had signed with another imprint, Warp Records, that "Separations" finally dropped.
Signed by Island Records, Pulp finally scored with "His 'n' Hers" which led to a U.S. tour. The set yielded ""Do You Remember the First Time?, the group's first U.K. Top 40 single.
Now among the Britpop pack with Oasis and Blur, Pulp issued "Different Class" in '05. It made its debut at #1 on the U.K. album chart. This marked the first album featuring Pulp fan-club president Mark Webber as a permanent member on guitar and keyboards.
The single "Common People", went to #2 in the U.K. And both "Disco 2000" and "Something Changed" reached the U.K. Top 10. But it was the two-sided single, "Sorted For E's & Wizz/"Mis-Shapes," that drew the most attention.
The New Musical Express (NME) thought "Sorted For E's" was a pro-drug song. The single had an inlay which was claimed to show how to conceal amphetamines in a DIY 'wrap'.
"'Sorted' is not a pro-drugs song," claimed Cocker. "Nowhere on the sleeve does it say you are supposed to put drugs in here but I understand the confusion. I don't think anyone who listens to 'Sorted' would come away thinking it had a pro-drugs message." Proving controversy is good for sales, "Sorted For Es" peaked at #2 on the singles chart. After that, it might be a good time to lay low. Not a chance.
There was the infamous '96 BRITAwards 'appearance'. While Michael Jackson was performing, Cocker jumped onstage and "wiggled his backside" at the audience. Cocker was arrested on charges of assaulting the child performers who were with Jackson. Off to jail he went. Eventually, the charges were dropped.
The NME described Cocker's actions as a "great publicity stunt" while Melody Maker chimed in stating that Cocker was, "arguably the Fifth Most Famous Man In Britain." Again, record sales soared.
When the group's former label, Fire Records, put out a compilation of early Pulp recordings, "Countdown 1992-1983" it received negative reviews but due to the band's popularity it cracked the U.K. Top 10. The group also contributed "Mile End" to the Trainspotting soundtrack.
The departure of guitarist Russell Senior, who said "it wasn't creatively rewarding to be in Pulp anymore," was a blow, but in true Behind The Music fashion, the bigger problem was Crocker's difficulty handling fame, battling cocaine addiction and dealing with the breakup of a long-term relationship. It was all evident on "This Is Hardcore," a '98 album that was neither a critical or commercial success - when measured against recent efforts. Three years later, "We Love Life" dropped. Though lighter in tone it failed to turn things around. A "Hits" package was released and that looked to be it for Pulp.
Nearly a decade later, the "Different Class" line-up reconvened to play the Wireless Festival in London's Hyde Park and the Isle of Wight Festival. That was followed by European and Australian tours. Then, in April of '12, Pulp performed their first U.S. show since '98. The Radio City Music Hall concert was the starting point of the group's North American tour.
1994 His 'n' Hers
1995 Different Class
1998 This Is Hardcore
2001 We Love Life