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Jarvis Cocker - Jarvis

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Artist: Jarvis Cocker

Album: Jarvis

Label: Rough Trade / World's Fair

Review date: Nov. 15, 2006

Form precocious pop group; spend years trying to make it; shed art-rock pretenses; make it; attack a robed Michael Jackson on-stage, see record sales soar, have wax statue of yourself placed in London’s Rock Circus; become a cultural critic; struggle with cocaine addiction, tabloid exploitation, the specters of fame; make a couple bleak records, alienating your fan base, then put the band on hiatus; return under a wacky moniker, make guest appearances, contribute to Harry Potter soundtrack; finally, “return to form,” making an eclectic solo record with the penultimate line: “The working classes are obsolete…Let ‘em all kill each other, and get a maid overseas.”

This is the weirdly conventional story of Jarvis Cocker’s rise and fall. Jarvis, his not-quite-eponymous debut solo outing, is essentially a patchwork drawing from low and high points of his career - a quilt meant as a cover as well as an ornament.

Cocker’s brash behavior and audacious songs have always seemed like less of an act than those of his Britpop contemporaries - Cocker seems least at ease with stardom, but thrives most when ill at said ease. Pulp’s best songs chart ironic anecdotes of class trouble in the context of girls who want to screw Cocker (“Common People”), detachment and coming of age in relation to girls who have screwed Cocker (“Do You Remember the First Time?”), and melancholy tales of getting old alone and not caring all that much, as sung to the girl Cocker never got to screw (“Disco 2000”).

Cocker’s lithe lyricism and ability to make lines like “You were the first girl at school to get breasts / Martyn said that yours were the best” sound urgent and penetrating is his greatest attribute. On Jarvis, there are few such alchemical pleasures, but ample moments of gratification.

The lead-off rocker, “Don’t Let Him Waste Your Time,” is a bit of a didactic pronouncement from the world-weary Cocker, intended for a female friend - “The years fly by in an instant,” Cocker reveals, then turns to ad hominem: “Some skinny bitch walks by in hot pants and he’s running out the door.” The sound is wonderfully overblown, Cocker typically aloof, the main riff reeking of the Beatles.

From there, he lifts the melody of “Crimson & Clovers,” the 1969 psych-pop gem by Tommy James, for “Black Magic,” which is guided by a similar set of mundane observations and lifestyle recommendations. Billowy bass fuzz mirrors the antique guitar line until the song explodes into a lackadaisical pub sing-a-long: “Black Magic, yeah, yeah, yeah.” Here is Cocker’s power: the penchant to be most enthused about nothing so much as his own burnished sincerity, regardless of (or despite of) content.

Elsewhere, Cocker attempts to picture a post-Pulp world, trying out piano balladry with a nod toward Elton John, dramatic orchestral numbers in the vein of Andrew Lloyd Weeber, even sweeping odes to escaping the strictures of the physical world in the spirit of Spiritualized. Cocker compares Western society to the Roman Empire over blithe electro-pop, reproves self-righteous “culture vultures” and “so-called artists” over a reverberant Western shuffle.

If these formal ventures prove Cocker’s musical prowess more than his sense of direction, it must be said that there are few songs he couldn’t turn into grand statements, few words he wouldn’t imbue with the weight of an anthem. “Running the World,” a political screed (and hidden track) should come across as shameless pastiche. But Cocker elevates it to the level of minor masterpiece. The chorus, “Cunts are still running the world,” is framed by a series of hilariously over-the-top remarks (“The cream cannot help but always rise up to the top, but I say ‘shit floats’”).

Surprisingly, this is the most rollicking song on the record. Cocker’s sonorous cries, always emphatic, are better fit for bemoaning class injustice and political conceit than the travails of lovers. He knows he’ll find another girl: the rhetoric of love is little more than an anti-politics, an alternative to its bourgeois image, all sentimentality and gift wrap. For this reason, you trust him when he gives orders: “The night belongs to lovers, so show some respect…stop being wrong.” Without denunciation, love falls short.

By Alexander Provan

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