So here it is then — the debut solo album from Jarvis Cocker.
First, here’s a quick shotgun blast of historical note: Jarvis was (is?) the front man of the Sheffield pop/glam group Pulp. They lived in obscurity from 1978, and on through the 80’s, until 1995, when they found themselves as part of the hip “Britpop” movement. Different Class was the album and “Common People” was the song.
Stardom and… validation?? Well, Jarvis kind of liked the ‘famous’ thing, and plunged right in. The hangover of this plunging was apparent on Pulp’s next record, 1996’s This is Hardcore.
The reclusive Scott Walker produced the more whimsical We Love Life in 2002. After touring this record and putting out a hits collection, the band went on an indefinite hiatus.
Jarvis is a stunning surprise. Perhaps even to old Cocker himself. Or well… then again, probably not. All I can ask of you, J.C., is… may we have a little more of this please? And when you say I can stay all night, do you really mean it? I’ll even sleep out on the porch. Oh, just don’t mind me.
Jarvis Cocker — Jarvis: Track-by-track review
1. “Loss Adjuster”
A brief 30 second piano bit that leads right into the next number.
2. “Don’t Let Him Waste Your Time”
Originally written for Nancy Sinatra, and recorded on her studio album Nancy Sinatra (2004). The lyrics of “Don’t Let Him Waste Your Time” give a rundown of things that can be allowed in a romantic situation — but there’s just one thing that can’t.
With only one no-no in the whole song, this could be looked at as a hopeful situation. But that one thing… well, it’s a big one, you see.
3. “Black Magic”
“Black Magic” informs us of a place that invokes the peculiarity of the 70’s film The Wicker Man. Awaking to bells ringing and characters that are “true believers of crash and burn” — this does make for a menacing drama, but it’s the chorus that ties it all together with a sample from Tommy James & the Shondells’ 1968 hit “Crimson & Clover.”
Black magic that blows your mind away
You only get to stay one day
Alice Cooper could have made a good run with this one.
4. “Heavy Weather”
Next on Jarvis, it’s onto the domestic destruction that makes up “Heavy Weather.” Rain, lightning and the threat of doom ruin what was once a sunny morning, all symbolizing the breakdown of a relationship where the narrator is aware that things have gone awry, and has accepted his fate.
The object of affection doesn’t care, even though she is the cause for the harrowing weather forecast. It feels that Ray Davies is lurking in the wings with the strummed out acoustic guitar and ill-fated lyrics.
5. “I Will Kill Again”
Another about domestic instabilty.
The first verse depicts a family that lives in a false sense of security; it’s a sort of update on Roxy Music’s “In Every Dream Home a Heartache.” But instead of fancying a blow-up doll, the man of the house prefers to simply drink a bit of wine and “look at naked girls from time to time.”
On the second verse, with an unsettling assemblage of strings, Jarvis wonders how nice it would be to live in peace and to never die of boredom. The piano melody recalls maybe McCartney, but I come away thinking more of the Left Banke (“Walk Away Renee”, “Pretty Ballerina”). Unsettling and alluring.
6. “Baby’s Coming Back To Me”
And so here finally things begin looking up. “Baby’s Coming Back To Me” is another song written for and performed by Nancy Sinatra.
It begins with the lines:
Outside there’s children laughing
The radio plays my favorite song
At this point in the album, one can’t be blamed for thinking that there is something bound to go wrong. But no, the girl is definitely coming back. She was just “sleeping somewhere.” This is an intriguing line but this number has no doubts nor has it any questions. Only affirmations.
With the bedtime glockenspiel and light acoustic guitar you can’t help but think you’re in a sort of intermission. It’s a strange dream that for a moment is really nice until…
7. “Fat Children”
The lone solid drumbeat intro is quickly joined by glammy, trashy guitar chords and a line about “an altercation.” It is immediately realized that you’re back in the dark stuff. The menacing hooligans have their way, and Jarvis vows to be a vengeful spirit after they do him in.
He goes on to blame the parents and informs them that their kids are just “maggots without the sense to become flies.” The police are no help in this story as they’re busy “putting bullets in someone’s head for no particular reason.” This could be considered by some as the one throwaway or filler track on Jarvis, but I wouldn’t consider “Fat Children” that — it stays. And it works. While this one is about going down fighting, the next one is a different matter.
8. “From A To I”
A ballad that harkens back to Pulp’s This is Hardcore days, tells of the fact that there are people who want to do us in because of our western lifestyle. But instead of fighting that fear, J.C. decides to just give in.
The way we live our lives perhaps isn’t really right after all, and maybe we do deserve a good old-fashioned downfall, a la the Roman Empire. This song almost seems a dare, a sort of peek into the abyss. The idea is that our ancestors are being let down, as they worked hard to survive whilst we can’t live without a “Frigidaire.”
9. “Disney Time”
Childhood collides with adulthood in a nightmare of averting eyes and images of fornication, and a world “granted” to us to soften the blow of all this swirling madness.
“Tonite” isn’t the gleam of optimism that one might want or expect after the dread of “Disney Time.” It does, however, offer the sentiment, “you can’t set the world to right, but you can stop being wrong.”
The kid who lost his brain somewhere in a field all those years ago on substances now is faced with an option: hide away or get on with life?
11. “Big Julie”
Adolescence in Hell is the theme. Harassing schoolmates, a dodgy Sunday school teacher and the local radio DJ are obstacles that the heroine needs to sort out on her own, with just her radio as support, and the idea that sex is “something you do when you’ve run out of things to say.”
By the end of the song’s four and a half minutes, “Big Julie” apparently rules the world. This is one of only a few happy endings on this record. But even here it’s only what could be — she isn’t guaranteed happiness, even though she damn well deserves it.
12. “Loss Adjuster”
The piano bit again as a sort of intermission as a break from all this drama. But not for long.
13. “Quantum Theory”
“Quantum Theory” is the last listed track on Jarvis. It’s a meditation about living a life without harm, and existing safe from gravity whilst living in a parallel universe, where everything is going to be okay.
These thoughts are repeated throughout the song but who is the singer trying to convince? The listener? Or himself? This could easily fall into esoteric drivel if it was anyone else going on about this sort of thing, but this… works.
Jarvis has his way with a half-picking, half-strumming guitar style, and his whimsical demeanor soon begins to melt away as the strings come in on the second verse with surreal effect. By the third verse the strings are very well theatrical and Jarvis is convinced, “Everything is gonna be… awlright!!!”
And the record stops.
14. “The Cunts Are Still Running The World”
Thirty minutes of silence at the end of the CD and… a surprise encore.
It’s really as the title suggests; self-explanatory. This tune was originally available only on the internet before the record came out. It’s a damn good thing this was tacked on to the end. When this track was released, any thoughts that there may have been about Jarvis not making it out alive without his former band were out the window.
Jarvis by Jarvis Cocker
“Don’t Let Him Waste Your Time”
“I Will Kill Again”
“Baby’s Coming Back To Me”
“From A To I”
“The Cunts Are Still Running The World”