Music Reviews

Jarvis Cocker Jarvis

(Rough Trade) Buy it from Insound Rating - 9/10

What a relief to hear an album like Jarvis. I love enveloping myself in sonic experimentation or rhythmic complexity as much as the next music fanatic, but my heart is with the song. To my ears, classical music reached perfection in Mozart and popular music reached it in the Beatles. Both artists/entities struck a balance between surprise and craft, familiarity and challenge, that remains unsurpassed. In popular music, the song hasn't actually gone away, but it has been relegated to the discount bin only to be sporadically revived by true believers like the Shins. Now, ex Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker keeps hope alive with a stunning collection of Songs, in the grand Brit-pop tradition.

I have no idea what legal snafus or scheduling issues kept this amazing album from being released in America nearly five months after it appeared in England, but it's a travesty that has been thankfully remedied. This is a transatlantic website so the album actually made it to our best of 2006 list, but those of us on the other side of the pond and the right side of the copyright laws had to wait until now to hear what everyone was raving about. Its status is richly deserved.

On Jarvis, Cocker is engaged with the world but not overwhelmed by it. So we get some biting political commentary in "From Auschwitz to Ipswich", a terrific pop structure complete with a modulation from major to minor in the chorus, in which he condemns the new imperialists who differ from the Nazis in degree but perhaps not in kind. It proves that you can get away with a fairly simplistic lyrical formulation as long as you set it to an appealing tune. He closes the album with an even harsher critique in "Running the World", which according to Cocker is still the job of, ahem, cunts. Again, this isn't exactly Hannah Arendt, but it's a great song and a committed performance, so anything goes. But this isn't strictly a political screed. On the epic opener, "Don't Let Him Waste Your Time", Cocker dispenses relationship advice over an ascending chord pattern that recalls Elvis Costello's classic "Man Our of Time". And no Brit-pop album would be complete without "Heavy Weather" in which the jangly 12 string electric gets to stretch its legs. Throughout he accomplishes the impossible by making the old sound new. This is most apparent on 'Black Magic" in which he makes excellent use of a sample of "Crimson and Clover", creating a marvelous new hook around the original one. It takes chutzpah to put your material right up next to a pop standard rather than just to rely on it, P-Diddy style, as a crutch.

Jarvis Cocker is no wilting flower and he's not forsaking experimentation or making some traditionalist stand. When you have great material, simplistic classifications are made irrelevant. If you're looking for something new, look elsewhere. If you're looking for something wonderful, the arrow on the cover points the way.