Jarvis Cocker – Jarvis

Although Pulp may have fizzled-out after the 2001 release of the weary We Love Life, with frontman Jarvis Cocker’s vague promise of a Paris-based retirement, the electromagnetic pull of his muse was always destined to drag him back into action. He’s taken his own time though, with a gradualist re-employment programme. Which means we’ve had Cocker as a songwriter-on-hire to Marianne Faithful, Nancy Sinatra and Charlotte Gainsbourg, a DJ mix album compiler with erstwhile Pulp bassist Steve Mackey, assuming his ‘Darren Spooner’ alias for electro-sleaze-pop outfit Relaxed Muscle and acting as the careful curator of three essential ‘deluxe’ Pulp album reissues. Then, most recently came Cocker’s most dazzling and brilliant bolt-from-the-wilderness yet, in the shape of download-single “Running The World”; a grandiose, angry and somewhat chilling political and cultural satire, as sagely plugged-into the tragicomedy of 2006’s messy zeitgeist as Pulp’s “Common People” was into the class tourism of 1990s ‘Cool Britannia’ over ten years ago. With just this one song, Cocker rekindled the lacerating penmanship he was morally-bound to rediscover, retaking his role as social commentator par excellence in the process. With all this magnanimous momentum behind him, Cocker’s solo debut – succinctly titled Jarvis – demands some seriously expectant examination.

Whilst Jarvis isn’t quite the “Running The World” x 13 event that this listener has hoping to find, it’s still a superbly realised widescreen pop-art affair; dripping with delicious diatribes and razor-sharpened ‘wit-against-shit’ polemic, yet humorous and honest enough to still be heartwarming and humane. Sonically rich and eclectic too, this is the record Pulp could/should have made as a sequel to the seminal Different Class, instead of the druggy-disintegration of This Is Hardcore.

Opening with the discreet piano instrumental “Loss Adjuster (Excerpt Pt.1)” the album throws in a red herring for those expecting a tub thumping introduction, before segueing into the shimmering Bowie-meets-T-Rex-glam-rock twosome of “Don’t Let Him Waste Your Time” (a lyrical heir to Pulp’s “Have You Seen Her Lately?”) and “Black Magic” (complete with soaring gospel backing vocals), which emphatically mark Cocker’s re-connection with the wider musical world. The more quiet/loud strains of “Heavy Weather”, with its lilting/chiming mesh of acoustic and electric guitars, is arguably the most uplifting sixties pop homage Cocker has cut since Pulp’s “Something Changed”. When “I Will Kill Again” glides into earshot though, the more sinister heart of the album beats nearer the surface, with its allegorical tale of domestic contentment breeding dystrophic dread. With its ominous semi-chorus of “Don’t believe me if I claim to be your friend/Cos given half the chance I know that I will kill again”, set to a gentile piano figure and low-ebbing strings, it may or may not be a subtle dig at the platitude-coated warmongering of the Blair/Bush-axis or the faux anti-corporatism of Coldplay’s Chris Martin. The romantic marimba-framed midpoint of “Baby’s Coming Back To Me” sounds rather lightweight in comparison, but not so the ensuing post-punk of “Fat Children”, which seems to pour its spleen-venting scorn on the proscribing middle-class moralising of the British media establishment.

The musically contrasting “From A To I” and “Disney Time” filter the ‘modern life is rubbish’ drive of the album into bossa-nova balm and John Barry-like melodrama, respectively. With the swaying “Tonite” Cocker offers a shaft of light to everyone, even himself, with the key observation that “You cannot set the world to rights/But you could stop being wrong”. By “Big Julie” he appears to cement this optimism, through the narrative of a downtrodden young soul rising to “rule the world”, wrapped in a Sgt. Pepper-like orchestral setting. After the brief wordless intermission of “Loss Adjuster (Excerpt Pt.2)” comes the slow-ebbing finale of “Quantum Theory”, which completes the album’s equation of “anger + optimism = a solution (maybe)”. But if that ray of hope is not fitting with the cynics amongst us, the articulate bile of “Running The World” rides in as encore – albeit 25 minutes or so later as a hidden-track – to remind us with foul-mouthed eloquence that “Cunts are still running the world”.

Whilst Jarvis isn’t the perfect or easy antidote to the malaise that has been dogging the world and its author, it is still a deeply powerful songwriting statement. Most importantly, it reminds us that although the truth can hurt, it can also inspire.