Music Reviews
Room 29

Jarvis Cocker / Chilly Gonzales Room 29

(Deutsche Grammophon) Buy it from Insound Rating - 5/10
Jarvis Cocker has always embraced the intricacies of storytelling. His lyrics find the poetry of the tiniest details, "right down to the broken handle on the third drawer down the dressing table." The vivid descriptions make people and places come to life. Room 29 is no exception. This concept album revolves around the activities of that room in the Hollywood hotel Château Marmont. A theme that lets Cocker write about celebrity and depravity? With the evocative piano  of Chilly Gonzales? How could he possibly resist?! Well, sometimes the subject matter overshadows the music meant to support it. 
 
True, at first this seems like a match in heaven. And the title track sets the mood. "A comfortable venue for a nervous breakdown/A front row seat for a psychic shakedown," Cocker whispers over icy, heavy keys. You can see them playing this in a smoky lounge, the type of place covered in blood-red decor. Tearjerker works too, the piano and Cocker's voice synchronized in their near-mock despondency. 
 
If this sounds like the type of world you want to stay in, then you're in luck. It doesn't change much. Or really at all. Sometimes they'll be a flurry of strings that recall the Golden Age of Hollywood, like on the nostalgic Clara. Spoken-word segments slip in and out, like spliced film reels. It touches on several of tragic figures of entertainment: Gene Harlow, Howard Hughes, Clara Clemens. The tracks fit together more like a soundtrack to a non-existent film about the room in question. But most of these songs or interludes are unmemorable as pieces of music. On nearly every song, Cocker speaks or keeps his voice in his low croon. Gonzales lays down some lovely piano, but there's not much that grabs you enough to come back. Once you get used to the approach, you will zone out for a significant length of the album. 
 
It's only towards the end that Room 29 picks back up a bit. A Trick Of The Light is a clear highlight, fusing a jazzy piano with sweeping strings and an impassioned vocal. It's a song that uses its length to its advantage to change, swell and swoop. It's even got a psychedelic reverse-audio segment. It infuses the glamor and grace of classic Hollywood with some sour notes. 
 
If more songs spread out and explored, rather than sticking to limited vocal and piano selections by Cocker and Gonzales, it would have made Room 29 a more interesting listen. As it stands, the record doesn't have the staying power to back up its cool theme. If you really love the lounge vibe, you'll likely enjoy this trip. For everyone else though, keep your visit to Room 29 a short, selective one.