In the five years since Pulp’s last (and probably final) album, the underrated ‘We Love Life’, Jarvis Cocker has kept a pretty low profile. Apart from writing the occasional song for Nancy Sinatra or Charlotte Gainsbourg, there’s been an uncharacteristic silence. Such a long gap between projects can often lead to the undoing of an artist (e.g. The Stone Roses).
It’s somewhat of a relief, therefore, to discover that Jarvis Cocker’s first solo album is quite splendid. Musically, the album is not dissimilar from Pulp, unsurprising perhaps, given that the instrumental core of ‘Jarvis’ is Richard Hawley, Steve Mackey (both of whom played with Pulp) and Cocker himself. The lyrics contain plenty of the self-deprecating wit we’ve come to expect from Cocker. The mood of the album is generally bleak and the outlook pessimistic, but like his compatriot, Morrissey, Jarvis Cocker is somehow able to subvert the misery, and find relief in the comic image or clever turn of phrase.
After a short instrumental intro, the album launches into its opening track, the ambling yet anthemic ‘Don’t Let Him Waste Your Time’, in which Cocker offers the following advice to a close friend or potential lover.
Cos the years fly by in an instant
And you wonder what he’s waiting for
Then some skinny bitch walks by in hot pants
And he’s a-running out the door
The next song ‘Black Magic’ is just as good. A kind of 21st century reading of the 60s hit ‘Crimson And Clover’. A sample of the original tune augments the sparse instrumentation, along with strange synthetic sounds and rhythms. It’s not entirely clear what ‘Black Magic’ actually is (a drug, a person, a type of chocolate), but it’s one of the few things that Cocker seems to like.
We can’t escape; we’re born to die
But I’m gonna give it a real good try
Because nothing comes close and nothing can compare
To Black Magic – Yeah, yeah yeah
After the slightly perfunctory ‘Heavy Weather’, comes another highlight, the gruesomely titled ‘I Will Kill Again’. Over delicate piano and flute sounds, Cocker lists a string of pleasant images –
Build yourself a castle
Keep your family safe from harm
Get into classical music
Raise rabbits on a farm
And then the twist …don’t believe me if I claim to be your friend…I will kill again.
The irony is turned up for the following track ‘Baby’s Coming Back To Me’ (originally written for Nancy Sinatra), which features a similarly pleasant sequence of images, but doesn’t come with a punchline. However, it’s clear to everyone but the song’s singer that ‘baby’ isn’t coming back at all.
‘Fat Children’ is the album’s ‘rock moment’. Here, Cocker hilariously recounts the robbery of his mobile phone by a gang of children, over crunching guitars and drums.
Fat children took my life. Oh.
‘From Auschwitz To Ipswich’ is probably the bleakest song on ‘Jarvis’ (not counting the bonus ‘hidden’ track ‘Running The World’). Its mood is summarized by the opening lines.
They want our way of life
Well, they can take mine any time they like
Cocker goes on to renounce his lifestyle, comparing the Western World to the Roman Empire, and encourages others to do the same.
It’s the end: why don’t you admit it?
In contrast, the music itself is quite gentle and pleasant, with string sounds, rhythm guitar and a distant bubbling synth.
This contrast between sweet-sounding music and grim lyrics is maintained throughout the rest of the album. The final track ‘Quantum Theory’ sounds particularly uplifting, with its swirling strings and moody guitars. On the surface it appears to be a celebratory song, with Cocker singing reassuringly ‘Everything is going to be alright’. It is only on closer inspection that we realise he is not talking about our world, but one in a parallel dimension.
Jarvis, it’s good to have you back.