Tom Ewing’s Top 100 Singles Of The 90s

One thing about breakthrough-era Pulp is how vicious it all is: “Razzmatazz”‘s absurdist soap opera shenanigans are a couple of shades blacker and a couple of shaves sharper than most of Jarvis Cocker’s early 90s output, but it’s still the same old song. You’re fucked up, so’s your new boyfriend, so’s your family, so am I, but so what – and by the way, your bum does look big in that. And all in pitilessly observed detail: Cocker’s vengeful-loner concerns at this point were hardly new, but the withering accuracy of his wordplay was. The dynamite opening couplet of “Razzmatazz” got them the press they needed but also left Jarvis open to gangly pervert stereotyping. “The trouble with your brother,” deadpanned this half-spoken, world-weary, Northern voice after some keyboard chords have swooped the song in, “He’s always sleeping with your mother”. And it wouldn’t have had half the impact if the rest of the words hadn’t followed through, turning that opening from shock-value tease to matter-of-fact.

“Razzmatazz” was the track that got me loving Pulp, but in truth I barely noticed the lyrics, all I cared about was the charged, low-rent music and delivery, the way Jarvis would slow-burn the verses and then explode into a neurotic cabaret of gasps, sighs and verbal tics, a stick-insect cross between James Brown and Frank Spencer. The music was cheap, frantic, immensely stylish pop: at the time I’d never heard Roxy Music so I’d no idea of even what planet this feverish arty pulsing was coming from, but I was fascinated and amazed.

What’s really amazing, listening back, is how the Jarvis Cocker persona gets defined so quickly, forming perfectly and fully in the space of maybe two singles, this and “Babies“. The indie boy outsider had defined 80s alternative pop, but Cocker brought to the mix not only his unique physical presence, not only an obsessive talent for social and sexual voyeurism, but also a steely confidence born from ten years of knockbacks and scrapping around in the arse-end of the indie charts. The result, seven years after “Razzmatazz” and four years after he really made it, is a thankfully healthy career as the best British songwriter of the decade and the unnerving knowledge that lads in every trendy East London bar are still trying to look like him.