The release of Pulp single Sorted for E’s & Wizz in 1995 led to the group becoming the centre of a witchhunt from the tabloid press, and Jarvis Cocker was momentarily public enemy number one. Even though the track is a sordid look at drug culture through sober eyes, its provocative cover made people jump to conclusions before even hearing a note of the song.
Cocker has always maintained that he doesn’t “think there’s anything big and clever about taking drugs”, insisting that the lyrics to ‘Sorted For E’s and Wizz’ reflect that stance. While the track directly discusses the prevalence of ecstasy rather than dealing with the high itself, it focuses on when the drugs have worn off, as the singer cries: “I lost my friends, I dance alone, It’s six o’clock, I want to go home”.
Meanwhile, in the chorus, he sings: “In the middle of the night, It feels alright, but then tomorrow morning, Oh, oh, then you come down”.
The lyrics didn’t matter to the press, however, and the artwork was enough to cause a hysteric controversy which ended up being the dream marketing tool for the band. For a few days, Pulp were one of the biggest news stories in the country.
Talk of the inlay of the single was the front-page scoop on the Daily Mirror, which described the original origami cover as intentionally “offering teenage fans a DIY guide on hiding illegal drugs”. Furthermore, the headline of the paper was ‘Ban This Sick Stunt’ alongside a photo of Cocker and the provisional cover.
On the same day, the journalist behind the scoop, Kate Thornton, explained to NME why she ran with the story. She said, “We wanted to see the sleeve pulled and we thought it was a crusade we would take up single-handedly. I think the sleeve is something that will concern our readers, although it may not concern yours.”
In response to the backlash thrown their way, Pulp decided that they had to change the artwork even though they made it clear that it wasn’t a “DIY guide on hiding illegal drugs”.
Two days later, Cocker issued a statement that the publication printed, which read: “‘Sorted’ is not a pro-drugs song. Nowhere on the sleeve does it say you are supposed to put drugs in here but I understand the confusion. I wouldn’t want anything we do to encourage people to take drugs because they aren’t a solution or an answer to anything. I don’t think anyone who listens to Sorted would come away thinking it had a pro-drugs message. If they did I would say they had misinterpreted it.”
Cocker also kicked out at Thornton for contacting the father of a victim of an ecstasy related death for a comment about the cover. A move that he felt was unnecessary.
In the end, Pulp would be the victors. Even though they agreed to tone down the artwork to remove its origami aspect, in 1995, a tabloid scandal was priceless and a badge of honour. It only further reiterated the Sheffield band’s position as the voice of the youth.
Remarkably, pre-order sales for ‘Sorted for E’s and Wizz’ toppled 200,000 and broke their labels record. It became the joint-highest charting single of their career, landing at number two, and the publicity just endeared them to more people.
The surreal scandal that came out from the artwork of ‘Sorted for E’s and Wizz’ even led to a sketch on Chris Morris’ satirical masterpiece, Brass Eye, which poked fun at the band for claiming innocence.
While the song isn’t pro-drugs, the inlay of the single was undoubtedly encouraging drug use. In fact, it was so blatant that it likely was a deliberate attempt to rile up a tabloid storm and get the band among the front-page headlines. If so, it was a stroke of genius by Pulp that couldn’t have gone more to plan.