The above writeups concern the Pulp
track. They're quite good. But they're not complete.
You see, in 2004, William Shatner came out with an album of rock and spoken word mashups. It was arranged by Ben Folds, of Ben Folds Five; and it contains what can only be described as an 'eclectic' mix of material. One of the most eclectic is a cover of Common People. On this version, there are two vocal parts. The main part of the lyrics are done spoken word by Mr. Shatner; the chorus (and some backing) is sung by Joe Jackson.
I'm not sure how I would feel about this cover version if I had been a fan of the original, but to be honest, I'd never even heard the original before hearing this one. I've listened to the original since, and it seems a nice song with a point, albeit a bit angsty - but then, I, too, have never smoked a fag nor spent dole money in a pub. This doesn't make me anything except 'unfit to comment' on the class-study aspect of the song. It's catchy, and (at least the original Pulp version, not their own redo) certainly seems heartfelt.
But the strangeness of William Shatner is that when you add him to things like this, things where his particular brand of overemoting flat-voiced delivery would on first blush seem to be the kiss of death to any such endeavour, something happens.
It's pretty clear what it is, too, and why it works now. See, Shatner went and got himself a sense of humor concerning his own self. For proof of this, I offer the title of his album - Has Been. Nobody can make an album named that, with the particular cover art that it carries (I'll let you find it, but don't worry, perfectly safe for work) without having a sense of humor about themselves. As a result, his jarringly different and, and first glance, inappropriate delivery suddenly is no longer just wrong; it's ironic, and in its irony, it's damn-all brilliant. The Shat has found a niche which has been opened for him not only by his particular style, but also been shaped by the hammer of the pop-culture importance he achieved for obvious reasons.
So the song.
It's a direct cover; the lyrics are (I think) identical, and the structure and music the same. Rather than being a purely guitar-driven track, it has been given a slight 'bleep' update, with electronic stingers for the opening notes. Shatner's almost twee and disbelieving tone on the first verse sets the stage for the rest of the track, which I can only describe as AWESOME. (sorry.) He lets his incredibly unsubtle voice color with as much disbelief and, eventually, anger, as possible; by the time we reach the two/thirds mark, Shatner is bellowing into the mic with Jackson mirroring him in the background for melody:
Rent a flat above a shop
cut your hair and get a job
smoke some fags and play some pool
pretend you never went to school
But still you'll never get it right
'cause when you're laying in bed at night
watching ROACHES CLIMB THE WALL
If you called your Dad, he could STOP IT ALL, yeah
You'll never live like common people
you'll never do what common people do!
You'll never fail like common people
you'll never watch your life slide out of view
and dance, and drink, and screw
cause there's nothing else to do...
The thing that makes this brilliant to me is that Shatner is the epitome (since his accession to the pop-culture heights, at least) of the person who will never know these things. Even his delivery - overtrained, overcontrolled, and carrying the familiar rhythms of a hairy-chested Starship
captain - testifies that he has no idea what it's like to live like that.
But he's angry. He's angry at the girl who's playing the class tourist, and he wants you to know it.
Is he really angry? You know, it's hard to say.
And maybe that's because he's learned to use his somewhat singular talents for something. Because honestly? I don't know if he's angry or not - which means that he has successfully convinced me that maybe he's not just acting.
And the music rocks. I have been known to drive over a hundred miles with this song on repeat, shouting along out the window at passing cars.