Rough Trade, 2006
REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/03/2007
Critics have never been shy about giving instructions on listening to an album (e.g. “this album needs to be listened to in one full sitting,” “play this album really loud, preferably when you’re driving,” “makes great make out music”). Possibly anticipating this tactic, Jarvis Cocker beats the critics by posting listening instructions on the CD of Jarvis, his debut album:
Remember! As always, please do not read the words whilst listening to the recordings.
Warning! Jarvis should not be used as a sedative or an accompaniment to exercise.
Jarvis can be broken into convenient bit-size pieces but probably works best when swallowed whole.
Aside from a little time off after Pulp’s final full-length album We Love Life, Jarvis Cocker has remained relatively busy while keeping a fairly low profile. He generated some buzz by appearing in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, appropriately enough as a lead singer of a band. However, he made his presence well known in 2006 by releasing the beautiful, vulgar “Running the World,” a barbed response to political apathy and indifference to the debt-saddled nations in Africa one full year after Live 8.
That song is on both the U.S. and UK version of Jarvis, but it’s hidden at the back. Most likely because while “Running the World” has a contemporary urgency, the rest of Jarvis is more reminiscent of lush pop albums of the ‘60s.
Jarvis is front loaded with hits. After a brief piano introduction, the album kicks off with the swaggering “Don’t Let Him Waste Your Time.” It’s a wonderful pop song that serves as a perfect introduction to Jarvis’ solo career since a listener would find it hard to imagine the song fitting in on any Pulp album. If you made it through “Don’t Let Him Waste Your Time” (a fairly easy task), it’s going to be next to impossible to resist “Black Magic.” Built around a sample from “Crimson and Clover,” the song is Cocker at his sexy, frustrated best.
Moments like these start to wane as Jarvis continues as more and more ballads come into play. In fact, the only true rocker after “Black Magic” is “Fat Children,” a driving, almost juvenile track about random violence and …obesity (what, fat kids don’t have enough problems getting teased in school, so Jarvis had to create a full-length song about them?).
The ballads may not have the immediacy as some of the catchier songs on Jarvis, but they have about as much staying power. “I Will Kill Again” features a simple piano refrain as Jarvis goes over a list of a typical everyman: “Log on in the night time / Drink a half-bottle of wine / Buy a couple of records / Look at naked girls from time to time.” But that portrait of an everyman turns bitter as Cocker croons “And don’t believe me if I claim to be your friend / ‘cos given half the chance I know that I will kill again.”
The last “official” song, “Quantum Theory” may initially seem like the song you skip through to get to ‘Running the World’ ... until Cocker’s weary voice takes hold. He may be known for his sarcasm, but on “Quantum Theory” that sarcasm gives way to a heartbreaking sincerity as he describes a quasi-utopian world where “Somewhere everyone is happy” and where “gravity cannot reach us any more.” He ends the song with a tentative, reassuring line: “Everything is going to be all right.” And despite the relative shit storm of civil wars, global warming and economic uncertainty, Cocker makes you believe in that declaration.
The solo album has always been a gamble. For every great album by Lauryn Hill, Annie Lennox and Frank Black, you have scores of unnecessary releases from Billy Corgan, Chris Cornell and Thom Yorke. One of the best compliments that can be given to Jarvis is that it doesn’t fall into the trappings of most solo albums. It doesn’t sound like a bunch of songs he wrote in between writing Pulp songs; it has a unified feel that most solo albums fail to achieve. It’s the sound of an artist who is content, yet edgy and prickly enough to still have more than a few tricks up his sleeve.