Jarvis Cocker

Jarvis

(Rough Trade; 2006)

By Peter Hepburn | 10 November 2006

Ah, Jarvis, it’s been too long. Pulp’s last album -- the vastly underappreciated We Love Life (2001) -- came out five years ago, and in the interim you seem to have been enjoying the high life: experimenting with slightly-too-long haircuts and starting a family. Glamorous, to be sure, but apparently not the formula for more Pulp material.

It seems odd that Cocker should choose to go solo at this point in his career. Pulp was always little more than “Jarvis and four other lads,” and considering the cast rotation that went on over their several decades of existence, there’s no immediately apparent reason why the advent of (early) middle age should cause him to abandon the moniker. Is this new album deeply personal? No, not really. Is it full of grown-up themes and complex lyrics? You obviously haven't heard the single. Could the whole thing benefit from some synth lines and a decent bassist? Oh yeah.

To be fair, this is a fine little pop album. It’s not a record that claims to be anything more than that, nor should it be judged against the high standard set by Pulp’s final three albums, one of the great hat tricks of modern pop. Jarvis still sneers with the best of them, and some of his lyrics are still eviscerating, but on the whole he seems to be tuning down the scorn in favor of classic-pop guitar lines and simple rhyming structures. There’s markedly less sleaze on the album, but Jarvis still knows how to play that rock-star role with aplomb. Proper opener “Don’t Let Him Waste Your Time” proves this with style, letting the gangly Brit prance about and sing of women in hot pants.

Of course, being a “fine little pop album” might well be faint praise; it’s the sort of thing you say about a Richard Ashcroft disc. There are songs here that do seem a bit too clever for their own good (“Fat Children,” “Disney Time”), or just a bit under-formed (“Black Magic” seems especially in need of some help). Many of the songs are ballads, and while Jarvis can be a thoroughly convincing crooner, he’s best with a bit of diversion thrown into the mix. “Stormy Weather” is a good example; it’s by no means a great song, but it works well to break up “Black Magic” and “I Will Kill Again.” Not that the ballads aren't good -- “From A to I” in particular is a nasty bit of social commentary, even upstaging the rather blunt hidden track, “Cunts Are Still Running the World.”

All in all, Jarvis is a mixed bag. It feels like the sort of thing that Cocker would do just to expunge his notebooks before moving on. In that regard, and compared with something like Thom Yorke’s The Eraser, it comes off quite well. On the other hand, it’s hard not to feel a bit wistful for the days of “Seductive Barry” and “Common People.” We’ll see where he goes next, but I’d say you’d be well served to pick up the recent, and excellent, Pulp reissues before Jarvis.