The bards of Britpop
As Jarvis Cocker is taken up by Britain's foremost publisher of poetry, The IoS assesses the lyrical credentials of the Pulp frontman and his peers
Sunday 16 October 2011
He's got the spectacles and the penchant for second-hand mens-wear of a poet. Jarvis Cocker also has a stellar career with Pulp as the unofficial laureate of Britpop, a finger-wiggling, preening chronicler of the seedier, darker aspects of fin-de-siècle Britain in classic songs such as "Common People" and "Something Changed" . But still it was a pleasant surprise to learn that he would be elevated from the muddy fields of Glastonbury, the scene of Pulp's greatest triumph in 1995 and their return earlier this year, to the airy heights of Parnassus. For this Thursday, Cocker will be accorded an accolade any British poet would treasure: publication of his selected lyrics by the most famous imprint in poetry, Faber & Faber. The publisher of such luminaries as Eliot and Heaney has even gone so far as to appoint Cocker as editor at large, with the task of acquiring and publishing a small list of books. But should the commissars of Faber bestow their laurels only upon Cocker? Perhaps not.
Here, then, for their and your delectation, are a few choice lyrical ejaculations from Cocker and the other bards of Britpop. After all, one man's pill-popping indie rock god is another's poetic genius ....
Anderson was the androgyne of Suede, which reluctantly found itself the standard-bearer of early 1990s Britpop. He said he was "a bisexual man who never had a homosexual experience".
"Well he said he'd show you his bed/and the delights of his chemical smile/so in your broken home he broke all of your bones/now you're taking it time after time." ("Animal Nitrate", 1993)
Poetic equivalent: Earl of Rochester
The TV/radio presenter cut a spikier dash during her teenage years in Sunderland's bubblegum punkers Kenickie. Girlish and glitzy, she gave voice to the everyday dramas of provincial youth from nightclub to bus station.
"Come out tonight, you've got to grab it/if you want to have it,/you've got to become what you can,/it's dark and it's savage, but it's only in Neon,/so come out and grab it." ("Come Out 2nite", 1995)
Poetic equivalent: Carol Ann Duffy
He ended up nigh-on toothless, but his lyrics were not. Struggles with drugs led to the break-up of the Happy Mondays, but not before he laid down some witty tracks. Once he moved on to Black Grape, he tore into hero culture, religion ...
"Oh Pope he got the Nazis/to clean up their messes/he exchanged the gold and paintings/he gave them new addresses/clean up your messes." ("Reverend Black Grape", 1995)
Poetic equivalent: William S Burroughs
"If you don't want to be the biggest band in the world, you may as well pack it in," said the retiring songwriter of Oasis. Gallagher's aggrandising pronouncements and epic anthems showed a decidedly Miltonic ambition to dominate Britpop. But with more booze and fighting.
"So I start the revolution from my bed/cos you said the brains I have went to my head." ("Don't Look Back in Anger", 1996)
"Is it any wonder why Princes and Kings/ are clowns that caper in their sawdust rings/and ordinary people that are like you and me/we're the keepers of their destiny." ("Go Let it Out", 2000)
Poetic equivalent: John Milton
The gangly lead singer of Pulp brought wit to Britpop and his deadpan Northern delivery and eye for detail made him the Alan Bennett of pop. It is no surprise to find him ditching the tunes to dedicate himself to poetry alone.
"My favourite parks are car parks/grass is something you smoke/birds are something you shag/take your 'Year in Provence'/and shove it up your arse" ("I Spy", 1995)
"When we woke up that morning we had no way of knowing/that in a matter of hours we'd change the way we were going." ("Something Changed", 1996)
Poetic equivalent: Philip Larkin
The foppish Divine Comedy singer-songwriter was a master of allusion, recorded an album in tribute to the Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski and a song to F Scott Fitzgerald. A king of the putdown.
"It's hard to get by when your arse is the size of a small country." ("National Express", 1999)
"My lovely horse, you're a pony no more/ Running around with a man on your back, like a train in the night ..." ("My Lovely Horse", 1996)
Poetic equivalent: Oscar Wilde
These days a bestselling novelist, Wener honed her literary skills as frontwoman of Britpop mid-tablers Sleeper. More than the so-so music, it's her vignettes of suburban lives that endure.
"He lives on his own/the TV's on loan/he watches old movies/he lives in a flat/the lino's all cracked /but he's got plans bingo." ("Vegas", 1995)
"He reads Harold Robbins/he flirts with his neighbour/ignores her at breakfast/he's reading the paper." ("Inbetweener", 1995)
"When he choked on the olive in his dry martini/there was dismay from friends he was close to/and it may sound funny but it wasn't supposed to be." ("Nice Guy Eddie", 1996)
Poetic equivalent: John Betjeman
Doomed love affairs with first Brett Anderson of Suede and then Damon Albarn of Blur ensured the Elastica singer a brief spell at Britpop's top table. Her liking for dangerous sex and anger at those unwilling or unable to provide it fuelled many of her attempts at the rhyming couplet.
"Is it something you lack when I'm flat on my back?" ("Stutter", 1993)
"You're just a soundbite/you killed the sunlight/you just don't look right." "Too Old to Die Young", 2001)
Poetic equivalent: Sylvia Plath
Dramatic, unstable, irresistible ... until his disappearance in 1995, the principal lyricist of the Manic Street Preachers was arguably the most compelling figure in Britpop. On the early Manics albums, Edwards railed against the political status quo and detailed his bouts of depression.
"I try and walk in a straight line/an imitation of dignity." ("From Despair to Where", 1993)
"I wanna be so skinny that I rot from view/I wanna walk in the snow and not leave a footprint." ("4st 7lbs", 1994)
"They drag sticks along your walls/harvest your ovaries, dead mothers crawl." ("Small Black Flowers That Grow in the Sky", 1996)
Poetic equivalent: Percy Bysshe Shelley
The mockney lads' night out spirit of Blur's early records hides a romantic yearning in the soul of the band's lead singer, illustrated through album titles that shift from the brutal Modern Life Is Rubbish to the more wistful The Great Escape. Similarly, Albarn's post-Britpop career reveals a restless, wandering mind allied to an elegantly tortured personality.
"Nothing is wrong she turns me on/I just slip away and I am gone." ("Beetlebum", 1997)
"I feed the pigeons I sometimes feed the sparrows too/it gives me an enormous sense of wellbeing." ("Parklife", 1994)
"Where's the love song to set us free? .../tell me I'm not dreaming/but are we out of time?" ("Out of Time", 2003)
Poetic equivalent: John Keats
Compiled by Hugh Montgomery, Robert Epstein, Simmy Richman, Matthew Bell, Mike Higgins and Simon Price
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