Theories abound as to the inspiration for Billy Mack, the aging rockstar who covers the Troggs’ “Love is All Around” to be a Christmas number one single in the film Love Actually. Bill Nighy, the actor portraying the role, claims it’s an amalgamation of rockers including Gary Glitter and Elvis Costello, but it’s hard to miss slight nods to either one of the Glimmer Twins or David Bowie. I have a new theory, however. I think Nighy was emulating what he thought Jarvis Cocker might be like in another twenty years or so. Sure, Cocker’s a bit more of a crooner than Mack, but he’s got the same self-deprecating charm, irreverence for the record industry and a sharp wit that can only come from a pale lanky son of England. Pulp dissolved so quietly and gradually that I’m not sure everyone even noticed that they weren’t making music anymore. A greatest hits collection and British reissues of all of Pulp’s albums barely made blips on the radar, much to the dismay of those, like myself, who valued the band above any other act at the time, including Oasis and Blur. That’s why I was so pleased to see that Cocker hadn’t given up on music entirely, releasing Jarvis in the UK last November, and in the US this month.
Because so many critics are quick to praise Cocker on his lyric writing, he purposefully chose to introduce the record, Jarvis’ debut solo album, with a short instrumental track. He also turned down the mix so that the first proper song, “Don’t Let Him Waste Your Time” would surprise your eardrums as it burst loudly from the turned up speakers. That particular track, along with “Black Magic,” is drenched with glam riffs and ebullient charm, the latter nearly ripping off entirely the chorus passage from Tommy James & the Shondells’ “Crimson and Clover.” Cocker croons his way through a few more tracks until getting to the darkly inspired “I Will Kill Again,” a song that seemingly rails against the boredoms of everyday life. Well, I guess not all of us can storm a stage filled with Michael Jackson and a bunch of singing kids, but then again, not everyone is as genius as Jarvis.
“Baby’s Coming Back to Me” is a bit of a turn around, being slightly more optimistic, seeing peace arrive in the world at the same time as a former lover. It’s hard not to think of it as being overly ironic, however, considering the rest of the myriad messages of dourness throughout Jarvis. Mr. Hardcore now lives in France with his wife and new baby boy and it’s fairly easy to see its influence on him. It’s like Serge Gainsbourg warbling about worrying about the future of the world that his child is going to grow up in. In other words, it is humanizing and genius. Some of that fear is put forward in “Fat Children,” a depiction of today’s violent, overfed world full of bad parenting. The further decline of civilization is brought forth in “From Auschwitz to Ipswich,” or as it is bizarrely called on the US version, “From A to I.” Changing the title only shows Cocker’s point as he describes it in “Disney Time,” a song that questions the villianization of truth while people try to `Disney-fy’ a happy ending or at least keep reality away from the eyes of children.
Two of the biggest highlights arrive toward the end of Jarvis, those being “Big Julie,” a story song about a girl who strives to escape the world she’s living in, eventually taking her revenge on those who wronged her, and “Running the World.” The latter song is hidden in the last few minutes of the half-hour long “Quantum Theory,” and also appears on the soundtrack to the film, Children of Men. This is the modern protest song amongst a group of protest songs, with Jarvis telling it like it is, pessimistically preaching that it is the `cunts’ who are running the world. Preach on, brother Jarvis! Oh, and did I mention that Richard Hawley plays guitar throughout the album?
Jarvis is more than a fine return to form for the former Pulp frontman. It’s a series of declarations of truth, slices of modern life and moments of desperation from one of England’s most beloved pithy cranks. These songs come across as more than just an aging rockstar, a Billy Mack if you will, decrying the state of the world, they represent what art is all about, holding up a mirror to society while trying to capture the reality and omnipresent truths in an entertaining package. Jarvis is nothing if not an amazing entertainer, and thank goodness he’s back. At least somebody is out there standing up to the cunts running the world and doing it with a voice that makes the girls’ panties drop.
Label: Rough Trade
Richard Hawley- Coles Corner
Pulp- This is Hardcore
Serge Gainsbourg- Rock Around the Bunker