If you're a Pulp fan no doubt you've sometimes endured the sad 'high fidelity'-like game of how-you-rate-Different Class against His'n'Hers, This is Hardcore and the sorry We Love Life. Few would be ready to dispute that the sensuous Different Class remains unrivalled and always will, put out -as it was- amidst the galvanising swirl of 1995. Yet Pulp fans need not despair. There's no actual need for the band to reunite and hark back to the glory days. The new entry The Jarvis Cocker Album would easily have a fair crack at a Champions League berth. Jarvis solo may be short of a killer-single (though the portrayal of today's UK "Fat Children" comes close, eye-winking as it is at Cockney Rebel's vintage brand of glam rock), but the tunes, the arrangements and the lyrics are absolutely spot-on, an indication of a massive return to form for the finest vignettist of his generation.
"Don't Let Him Waste Your Time" is Jarvis' way of starting with a bang. It could be T-Rex all over again until that pleasantly familiar voice kicks in, last heard as inspired circa 1997. True, a hand and a half is gracefully lent out by guest star guitarist and fellow Sheffielder Richard Hawley. Funny how the British press spent the best part of the last 20 years navel-gazing for Johnny Marr's heir apparent. Well, he's sitting right in front of them now. With a subtle guitar work that sounds nothing short of sublime, tasteful and discreet at once, Hawley's contribution to The Jarvis Cocker Album is just "the dog's". Or, for want of a better word, vital.
Jarvis' solo debut is music for grown-ups, testament to the fact that turning 40plus, a hubby and a dad is not always to the detriment of edge and inspiration. Lyrically as engaging, cynical and scathing as ever, the Jarvis Cocker of 2006 sounds all but content. For one, he takes on today's make-believe pampered world of telly and reality pap; "how come they're called Adult movies when the only thing they show is people making babies filmed up close", he protests on "Disney Time", the subject so depressing a platform that the dark sense of drama of the song wouldn't go amiss on Pink Floyd's The Final Cut. Except that Jarvis' tongue-in-cheek doesn't let him down, placing the track on a league of its own.
The aptly titled "From Auschwitz to Ipswich" beautifully sums up the post-9/11 sense of fatality and us-and-them paranoia: "They want our way of life/well they can take mine any time they like", he shrugs off, "like the Roman Empire fell away/let me tell you we are going the same way". "Big Julie" is possibly the most beautiful track on Jarvis. If you're insensitive to its vocal performance and its poignant arrangement, strings and piano then you may as well top yourself. A dark tale of a misfit, a solitary schoolkid who's well ahead of her peers, she knows "sex is just for when you've run out of things to say" and will have her own back one day, against a bleak backdrop of "stupid kids", "sweaty lads who get her down " and pervy "Sunday school teachers". Track 10 "Tonite" is a perfect exercise in genius musical arrangement, with Richard Hawley's swooping slide and pedal-steel guitar licks standing out beautifully.
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