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Jarvis Cocker Won’t Waste Your Time

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I fell in love with Jarvis Cocker in 1994, when I saw Pulp open for Blur in Boston. Seeing the tall, lanky, bespectacled, stylish, showman slink around a tiny club stage singing incredibly witty and catchy pop songs immediately seduced me along with everybody else in the audience. Fast-forward to 2007. Cocker’s released a highly anticipated solo album and has played a handful of live shows … and I still love him.

Forming Arabicus Pulp in 1979 at the age of fifteen in his native Sheffield, it would be a long while before Cocker would achieve celebrity and iconic status. After a couple of years toiling in dreary, industrial Sheffield, a few member changes, and dropping the “arabicus” bit, Jarvis moved to London to study film at Central Saint Martins College.

Pulp’s earlier albums, It, Freaks, Masters of the Universe, and Separations are a bit dark and sinister. Early singles—“My Lighthouse” (“Some laugh at my lighthouse they say that it’s just an ivory tower, but I don’t mind because I know their envy grows by the hour … ”), “Little Girl with Blue Eyes” (“Little girl with blue eyes, there’s a hole in your heart and one between your legs, you never have to wonder which one he’s going to fill, in spite of what he says … ”), and “Dogs are Everywhere” (“They get down on all fours when you walk through the door, they whine and beg around your feet just like a dog for something sweet … ”)—are not without merit, but reveal a young and naïve Cocker.

Cocker is known for his sharp and articulate songwriting skills, and evocative, sexually charged lyrics. His flair for storytelling became fully evident with Pulp’s 1994 album His ‘n’ Hers, which contained lively, glam-pop gems like “Lipgloss” (“No wonder you’re looking thin, when all that you live on is lip gloss and cigarettes. And scraps at the end of the day, when he’s given the rest to someone with long, black hair … ”), “Babies” (“We were on the bed when you came home, I heard you stop outside the door, I know you won’t believe it’s true, I only went with her cos she looks like you … ”) and “Do You Remember the First Time?” (“Now I don’t care what you’re doing. No, I don’t care if you screw him, just as long as you save a piece for me … ”). 

It wasn’t until the peak of Britpop and 1995’s top-notch Different Class that Pulp—and particularly, Cocker—became stars. The anthemic “Common People” (“ … laugh along with the common people/Laugh along even though they’re laughing at you/and the stupid things that you do/because you think that poor is cool … ”) made Cocker a champion for the UK’s working class. [Editor’s note: what a coincidence that this single was covered in Has Been, featuring Joe Cocker.] In 1998 came This is Hardcore, a paranoid, hangover-like album that revealed Cocker’s fears and insecurities, his premature midlife crisis (he wrote “Help the Aged” when he was thirty-three), and unease with his newfound celebrity. It’s a brilliant, moody, revealing album. In 2001, Pulp released their swansong, We Love Life, which presented a calmer, cleaned-up, more stable Cocker.

Like most Pulp fans, I was crushed to learn that the band went on an extended hiatus after We Love Life, but fortunately, Cocker has kept busy. In 2002, he collaborated with Marianne Faithfull on her album Kissin’ Time—cowriting a song titled, “Sliding Through Life on Charm.”

After marrying the in-demand French fashion stylist, Camille Bidault-Waddington, in the summer of 2002, Cocker relocated to Paris with her and had a son in 2003. Also in 2003, Cocker started a new band, Relaxed Muscle, in which he went by pseudonym Darren Spooner, wore a skeleton costume and full-face makeup, and played electro-rock (like Nine Inch Nails-lite). In 2005, Cocker wrote three songs for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and even had a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him cameo in the film as a member of the wizard rock band that played the Hogwart’s school dance. Another notable side project was the 1999 album Pickled Eggs & Sherbert by the All Seeing I, in which Cocker co-wrote a number of fun and campy songs including, “Walk Like a Panther,” “First Man in Space,” and “Drive Safely Darling,” which he also sang. 

More recently, he did a smashing cover of a Serge Gainsbourg song, “I Just Came to Tell You That I’m Going,” for an English-language Gainsbourg tribute album, Monsieur Gainsbourg Revisited. He’s also collaborated with Air on their latest, Pocket Symphony, and he penned the lyrics for Charlotte Gainsbourg’s new album, 5:55

His solo debut, titled simply Jarvis, picks up musically where the last Pulp album left off, and offers a world-weary and political outlook. “Don’t Let Him Waste Your Time” is a grand cautionary tale that Cocker originally wrote for Nancy Sinatra (“You ain’t getting no younger and you’ve got nothing to show, so tell him that it’s now or never and then go … He can have his space. Yeah, he can take his time. Now he can kiss you where the sun don’t shine. Oh baby, don’t let him waste your time.”). The dramatic “Black Magic” contains the familiar beat sample from the Shondells’ “Crimson & Clover”; the languid tracks “Heavy Weather,” “I Will Kill Again,” and “Baby’s Coming Back to Me” have a slight country vibe. The hidden track (which clocks in at about twenty-four minutes at the end of “Quantum Theory”) is “Running the World” (“Well did you hear, there’s a natural order. Those most deserving will end up with the most. That the cream cannot help but always rise up to the top. Well I say: shit floats … ”). The original title for the song includes an expletive that can’t be printed, but sums up Cocker’s opinion of current world leaders quite succinctly.  

The album evokes a sort of theatrical, old-school crooner feeling, similar to Gainsbourg, Leonard Cohen, Scott Walker, and Lee Hazelwood—all artists Cocker admires. Though he’s now forty-three and a settled-down family man, Cocker’s still an excellent entertainer. Seeing him at NYC’s Webster Hall at the end of April, Cocker proved he’s still a first-rate songwriter and extraordinary performer … and I’m still in love with him!


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