Another of Pulp's true life stories, 'Sorted', was a massive No.2 smash in early October 1995... It followed the anthemic 'Common People' into the Top 3Another track that feels like a slight misfit, despite its nominally high chart position: it was of course a double A-side with the more obviously commercial 'Mis-Shapes', which makes this seem an almost deliberately obscurantist choice, though by no means an unwelcome one for those who like me are fans of Pulp and have bought the T-shirt. Well, actually I think it was a present, but anyway I'm wearing it as I write this, so I'm still going to count it.
What I didn't do was buy the single itself, so I missed out on the notorious sleeve that caused a tabloid storm. I have a vague memory that in the panic to be seen as doing something, the video ended up being banned, although it's actually quite innocuous live footage, rather disappointing compared to the usually more imaginative Pulp promos. And they did still get to do it on TotP. There was always likely to be a fair bit of controversy about the title and subject matter of the song in any case, no matter that the song is hardly a ringing endorsement of recreational drug use: a nuanced view wasn't what the red-top press was interested in selling back then. Presumably this is why the record company ultimately insisted on the double-A.
Our setting being a possibly illegal rave, it's clever that the track fades in with a cheering crowd, but that's not a sound effect: the basic track comes from their Glastonbury performance that summer, albeit with considerable overdubs and an entirely re-recorded vocal; even more re-recorded in the single version that appears here (sometimes called the 7" edit, though the track wasn't actually released in that form until a year later) to remove the rude word from the second verse. You can still hear traces of these origin in the reverby sound of Jarvis Cocker's acoustic guitar, and is that a trace of feedback at 2:55? The crowd drift in and out too, although that's obviously a deliberate production effect. I don't know why they chose to work on this version rather than starting from scratch in the studio, but the effect works as more than just scene-setting; there's a slightly distant ambience about the sound that mirrors the lyrical theme of a crowd playing lip-service to togetherness and brotherhood but are unwilling to bond on any deeper level. Indeed, with hindsight, it's really the emptiness of the promise that's the main lyrical theme of the song, more so than any pro- or anti-drug interpretation that might have attracted more attention at the time. At the same time, of course, the production skills of Chris Thomas make this much better than a straight dub of the live version; in particular, Cocker's vocal is masterfully phrased in a way he couldn't have guaranteed in one take, and there are a few lyrical variations too. Most impressive of all is the vocal arrangement on the chorus with multiple overdubbed Cockers: particularly on headphones it sounds like one of them is whispering right down your earhole, creating exactly the right emphasis for the ominous lyric. Between the two songs on offer this was reportedly Island's most pre-ordered single up to that point (though it's not clear whether those were customer or just retailer orders) and widely tipped to become Pulp's first Number One single, but in the end it was outdone by the aforementioned 'Fairground' by U2.
As it happens, a connection did finally emerge between this and the previous track: when Pulp won the Mercury Prize for Different Class in 1996, they donated the prize money to War Child as the Help album had also been nominated.
Also appearing on: Now 31, 33, 35, 39
Available on: Different Class / Deluxe Edition