With solo artists formerly members of bands or groups, especially those that had left their cultural footprint on a generation, the issue of living up to the experience of past works will always linger. Paul Weller had it and came into his own. Roger Daltry experienced it time and time again. Jarvis Cocker is still chasing that high, so much so that he retreated back to group work with the seemingly ego-fuelled project Jarv Is. His name under one group, or roof, as House Music All Night Long would clamour for. Despite that, Cocker’s debut attempt at music with the simply titled The Jarvis Cocker Record shows off his indie range without dabbling in the culture wars, the drink and drugs of a past period or anything out of the ordinary.
Cocker instead crafts a relatively standard album of indie ballads that are elevated by those who prefer his vocal range to that of other, available artists. One driving force for Pulp was the vocals, not the lyrics themselves (which are superb) but the way they hit the instrumentals behind it, how they shake a new experience from the contemporaries around it. Pulp was different. Cocker’s vocals are different, certainly, but tracks like Heavy Weather and Don’t Let Him Waste Your Time are no different in subject matter to anything else around at the time. They are extremely similar to what Cocker had sung of just years ago on We Love Life, but his lyrical bites feel unchanged. This is great for those wanting more of the frontman’s work to feel similar, but a shame for those wondering where his work could grow, especially on a solo album.
It is rather telling that Fat Children and Black Magic could have worked as fairly rugged B-Sides to Pulp records. When Cocker is left to his own devices, he spins tales of lovely woe with I Will Kill Again and Don’t Let Him Waste Your Time. But for every From Auschwitz to Ipswich, there is an equal, lesser track. Quantum Theory springs to mind. A dud note that was perhaps buoyed on original release for hiding the now rallying cries and biting satire of Cunts Are Still Running the World. But there is a hand behind the technical side that feels a bit more Cocker-esque. A more hands-on approach that sees him produce as well as perform. That is a nice change of pace, and it adds an extra layer to tracks like Disney Time and Tonite, which feel thoroughly lacking but know their place on the slower moments of the B-Side.
Noble an effort it is, Cocker will always, like most frontmen for big pop groups, be defined by the music he made in collaboration with others. His solo records are extremely enjoyable, as is The Jarvis Cocker Record, with many of the tracks holding their own against Pulp’s heyday. But they do not exceed that. Very few of his solo efforts would, and even then, he would rely on the likes of Candida Doyle and Richard Hawley to perform over the years of touring this album. It was not until 14 years later, with Jarv Is… that Cocker’s lyrics felt fresh, new and exciting. The Jarvis Cocker Record is more of the same, the persona of the 1990s laid out on a solo album. It remains unchanged, just a little short for change on some tracks.