IN THIS PHOTO: Jarvis Cocker/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
MUST I EVOLVE?
The track, MUST I EVOLVE?, is available via:
15th May, 2019
Rough Trade Records Ltd.
MAYBE the idea sprang from a realisation that...
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Jarvis Cocker’s name can sort of split into two – well, his foreman at least! JARV IS… is, essentially, Jarvis Cocker with musicians Serafina Steer, Emma Smith; Andrew McKinney, Jason Buckle and Adam Betts. I will come to look at Cocker’s latest movement and offering soon but, before getting there, I wanted to address those in music we need to keep around and make it more interesting; those artists who have developed and are still on the scene after all these years; the dangers of launching a sort of ‘concept’ and how, when it is done right, it can be really great; bringing some humour and something light into music; where JARVIS IS… could go – and whether Jarvis Cocker himself will be touring and where he could go. I will start by looking at music itself and the fact that we do not really have that many standout personalities. Think about all the icons of the past and how they seemed to project this aura and confidence. There is, right now, a biopic/fantasy musical of Sir Elton John, Rocketman, that is receiving some mixed reviews. We know John is a charismatic and flamboyant human whose music has captivated and set alight the world for decades. The biopic, it seems, is a little more dull and routine than one would hope. That is a shame because, when we think of John, there is this rather colourful and fascinating person – the film does not reflect that. Look about music today and there are very few that we are in awe of and carry that gravitas. Maybe the industry has become more about routine, process and not straying far from the true and tested. Back when musicians could be a bit more individual and expressive, we got some fantastic music with it. Now, although there are great albums being produced every week, the people responsible for them are not exactly that memorable – there are exceptions but they are in the minority. I understand that it is hard to make an impression and standout – given there is so much competition and pressure – but it is a bit of a boring time for music. Look at somebody like Jarvis Cocker and you can never accuse the man of lacking panache and charisma!
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
I am making an exception with this review because, not only are there very few good photos online of Jarvis Cocker – sort it out, Jarv! – but he does not have a Twitter account (my golden rule regarding artists who feature on my site is that they need to be on there!). I will let this slide because I was eager to feature this project/new outing because Cocker is someone who continues to amaze. I, like many, have been following him since the 1990s when Pulp made some of the best music of the decade. The man behind Common People, Babies and Disco 2000 opened eyes and amazed us all with his incredible words, lanky figure and this striking demeanour – almost like a model or poet rather than a conventional musician. The way Cocker moved and how he spoke in interviews; nobody quite like him existing back then and, in a more sterile landscape now, this is still the case! With JARV IS… the man is back and he is in rude form! I have heard a few interviews he has given and it is another solid-gold Cocker creation. When I come to review the single, I will allude more to the charm and quirk you get with it. Look through the archives of music history and there has definitely been deterioration when it comes to the colourfulness and memorability of our artists. I am glad that, as Cocker grows older, he has not lost his acerbic wit, intelligence and that ingredient that makes him stand out: a true personality that is not beholden to cliché and marketing expectation. I shall move on but I love the fact that, when it comes to Cocker, you never know what to expect. He is always amusing and moves in his own way. I feel artists coming through should study Cocker as an example of someone who captures the heart and is not the sort of forgettable and average artists that one (largely) finds now.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
I do not want to look back too much but, when it comes to an icon like Jarvis Cocker, one cannot help but go back to their start and see where they have come. There are musicians who have been around for decades and have sort of declined in terms of quality and ambition. Look back at early Pulp albums such as It and Freaks in the 1980s and they definitely evolved and stepped on pretty quickly. The earliest records from them are not that great but they did show promise. Pulp really hit their stride when they released His ‘n’ Hers in 1994; the follow-ups Different Class in 1996 and This Is Hardcore in 1998. We Love Life, co-produced by Scott Walker, was the final album from Pulp in 2001 and saw the band change their sound slightly. It is a more mature and one that is more reflective. Rather than relive the days of their anthems and the 1990s’ buzz, Pulp produced something that was arty but had a more settled and contemplative skin. 2006’s Jarvis – the debut solo album from Cocker – looked at dread and more emotional subjects but did not break entirely from the energy and fun of Pulp. It is more stripped-down and controlled but it has so many different layers and covers a lot of ground. The sense of craft and commitment one found through the album resonated with critics. Those expecting Pulp-like anthems would have been disappointed but those who love Cocker and what he is about would have appreciated that album. It is a remarkable release and showed that, through the decades, Cocker has not lost his spark and sense of wonder. 2009’s “Further Complications” took off from where Jarvis left off and 2017’s Room 29 was another new step. The man has managed to keep his spirit and unique voice but expand his palette through the years. The latter album was made with Chilly Gonzales and it (the album) was a sixteen-song concept/cycle that gained huge critical love.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
I do fear that, as we all become more obsessed with technology and reliant on it, we will overlook the pioneers and the true greats who have survived all this time and, more than that, continue to make music of the highest order. Maybe the music Cocker has been making since 2006 is very different to the Pulp golden days but that is to be expected: it would be somewhat crass and a bit tragic if the older statesman was still writing about discos, meeting girls in supermarkets and the perils of youth. Rather than completely abandon that side of himself and dress his lyrics in a cardigan, Cocker keeps the wit and sharp lyrics but has applied them to different sides of life. His new moniker definitely has plenty of humour and character but it is another angle that one did not see coming. Jarvis Cocker is a master who never stands still and, time and time again, produces music of the very highest order. I have so much respect for the trailblazers and heroes who have been around for decades and continue to inspire. We all owe them so much and there is a part of us that hopes they can keep on making music for many more years – it seems there is no danger of Cocker slowing down anytime soon! In the new song, MUST I EVOLVE?, the ageing Cocker (he is not old but no longer than twenty-something that enthralled back then) asks whether he needs to change his ways and evolve – he is met by a resounding ‘yes’ from a female voice (a chorus of female voices, indeed). I do not know whether JARV IS… have an album in them but one suspects the group/Cocker have planned ahead and we will be getting more material pretty soon. It is great to have more music from the man and, as I explained, every new project and venture seems to reveal something fresh. This is another aspect of Cocker that should strike the minds of artists coming through: his chameleon-like genius and the way the man can still make us chuckle after all of these years!
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
I looked at JARV IS… and what they are about and a part of me sort of tensed a bit. This is not really a conventional band but more of a concept. The ellipsis and missing question mark suggests that Cocker is in a place where he is not sure who he is and where he needs to head; maybe there are multiple sides to the man and he is this polymath. It is for the listener to decide but, on paper, this is Jarvis Cocker 2.0. It is more a concept than a group and that could leave many wondering whether this is more art and pretence than actual music and solidity. I agree that music that suggests concept and art can be a bit risky. I should qualify that. Art and music have a natural relationship but the most important side is the music. Designs, mysteries and concepts are all good and well but one wants the songs to be terrific and get a sense of what a band/artist is all about. In many ways, Cocker’s new endeavour is about a man who is struggling to get to grips with modern culture and stay afloat of what is happening. In the single, he talks about Frankie Knuckles and the fact he is dragging his knuckles listening to him. Cocker, in a way, knows he is middle-aged and the world is very different now to what it was like back in the 1980s and 1990s. The songs he was writing at the peak of Pulp’s powers are iconic, for sure, but show a very different world to the one in which we all live. Maybe that is not a bad thing – although I think it is – but is relatable and commendable hearing Cocker stay where he is and wondering whether he needs to evolve. There are lots of questions to unpack and different lines to chew over. I shall do that when I get to the song but, rather than have this sort of new persona and personality, Cocker is simply using this new opportunity to take his music in another new direction.
ART CREDIT: Federica Masini
Maybe, because of the striking moniker he has adopted, there will be question-only songs. Maybe we will get this fully-fledged character and something more akin to what Madonna is doing now – her Madame X alter ego is this multi-talented and adaptable human who is a teacher, a fighter and a spy – and several dozen other things by the looks of her Instagram and Twitter teasers! If Madonna is this superhero(heroine) and Swiss army knife of a person in 2019, who is Jarvis Cocker? In many ways, he is the opposite: a man who is asking more questions than making statements; someone who seems willing to stand where he is and is confused by the world spinning around and how it has changed – whereas the older Madonna seems to be evolving, engaging with some of her earlier sounds and is always moving forward. Perhaps it is a bit harsh and short-sighted to call JARV IS… a concept or one-off thing. Who knows how far the band can go but it does seem like a group effort rather than a Cocker solo album. I like the fact there are other musicians and voices in the mix. Cocker seems to be in a more collaborative mindset than he was back in 2006 and, although Pulp have split, Cocker has not isolated himself and is still working alongside others to create this fulsome and handsome sound. Many have noted that, in MUST I EVOLVE?, there is a question as to whether Cocker needs to get with the kids and adapt to the modern world. Cocker is cast as this older gentleman who is not over the hill and dead yet but he definitely does not want to absorb everything new and hip – this lack of fashion sense and coolness, in a way, is cooler than those who are very tech-savvy and embrace new music. I do hope there is a lot more from the JARV IS… project because there is nothing like it in music at the moment. We do need Cocker now more than ever!
PHOTO CREDIT: Andrew Cotterill Photography
I say this because there is a real lack of humour and comedic catharsis in the industry at the moment. I have mentioned this a few times but it warrants repetition. There is endless endeavour and brilliance to be found – I am listening to Rosie Lowe as I type this – but, whilst you are impressed and stunned by the sounds, one does not necessarily feel lighter, happier and better as a person. I feel that, in a world that is pretty black and unsettled right now, we need some escape and relief. That is not to say artists should abandon what they do and make bangers all of the time. Certainly, with MUST I EVOLVE? there is not this club rave and old-school Pulp gem: instead, we have a song that makes you smile and definitely provides some humour. The fact the band/moniker and song are written in capital letters means there is a sense of declaration, exclamation and urgency that is never to serious and po-faced – one gets a lot of wit and warmth from Cocker and that is to be commended. It would be unfair to label all music today as bleak and lost but I am not naive enough to think that music back in my youth was all cheery and brilliant. There were hard times in the 1980s and 1990s and we had to deal with similar struggles and challenges as we do now. Rather than reflect this feeling of anxiety through music, artists provided energy and escapism that we all needed. These songs – from the 1980s and 1990s – remain and many of us (myself included) still listen to them today. I am looking out for musicians who are willing to produce something fun and that which makes us smile. There is not enough of it right now and I do think that music would be richer if there were changes. We are living in a time when music is not providing much escape and relief from the hardships of life. Jarvis Cocker is here and, with his merry band of men (and women), he has crafted something that definitely puts you in a better space – even if there are some introspective moments and the feeling that the older Cocker is struggling in the modern world.
PHOTO CREDIT: Andy Fallon/NME
In a way, there is something about MUST I EVOLVE? that reminds me of The Divine Comedy. Chronically, off the top of my head, I am not sure who came first or whether Neil Hannon (The Divine Comedy) started out before Jarvis Cocker. Both men have a sort of breathy and dramatic way of singing (almost talk-singing in a sense) that sort of takes the breath. Juxtaposed against the elegant and slightly weary questions from Cocker – must he evolve and develop? – there is the youthful, energised and very insistent affirmation that, indeed, he does need to get with it! He asks whether he needs to grow old (yes) and whether he needs to do what he is told (yes) – that sense that he does need to be the opposite of who is now is resounding and consistent throughout the song. After the early round of questions and this sort of defence from Cocker – like a man on trial and asking whether he needs to reform -, we get another phase. MUST I EVOLVE? sort of has hallmarks of classic Pulp numbers: the song twists and turns and blends spoken segments with different elements and conventional delivery. Here, the song starts with this accelerated and question-posing start and then moves, literally, back in time. Cocker ponders the Big Bang and how life started. Rather than being this universe-creating explosion, Cocker sees it more as a bang…a pop…well, a sort of minor tremor that was not all of that. Maybe this is symbolic of a man who has a world-weariness and scepticism. Perhaps he feels that, if the start of the known universe was a bit of a nothing, why should he make these leaps and personal changes. With Jarvis Cocker, songs are never simple and easily predictable. This is good because, instead, we are witness to something much more intelligent, informative and deep. He talks about creation and what happened at the very start. There are hand-claps and Cocker, almost William Shatner-like, narrates the course of time.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Nobody knows where we are going and where the world is headed. The song kicks up a gear when that chorus comes back in. The most pressing question is when Cocker asks whether he should stay the same (the echoed and repeated ‘nos’ show that he needs to move along). I love how there are little breaths and sighs as Cocker whizzes through evolution and time. The song is breathless as the hero says that we/he is looking for shelter and trouble. Cocker discovered fire and, as is said, “even giants started small”. One gets a load of images and scenes racing by so, in many ways, this is a song you need to listen to a few times to get a full impression. I think that, when he talks of giants and the universe being modest at the start, he is defending his slow rate of development. If all these grand things took ages and ions to get to where they are, why should one expect Cocker to be this grand and modern human being when he can offer such wisdom? There is an underlying stubbornness and confidence that makes the song so engaging and resonant. We can all understand that feeling of being a bit tired or not knowing why others want us to change. That clash between the spoken verses and this view of the world before and how we have progressed and the chorus regarding personal growth and whether maturity is really needed is a great thing. I do think the female voices and this clash of the slightly forlorn and inspiringly fresh works brilliantly together. When Cocker asks questions regarding his lack of movement, he is met with stern-yet-fun responses. I have mentioned how there was a bit of The Divine Comedy at the start but, oddly, I can detect some of Leonard Cohen’s First We Take Manhattan (from 1988’s I’m Your Man) in the song.
IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images
The way Cocker’s voice goes low and there are these angelic and uplifting voices in the chorus – one feels there is a link, however slight, between the songs. If Cohen was talking about storming cities and colonisation, Cocker seems more comfortable hording the past and wiling away the time with one eye on the past. The infamous lines from the song – Cocker dragging his knuckles to Frankie Knuckles – comes during a new cycle/suite. If this song is a modern-day opera that has one of its eyes lodged in the past (Modern Life Is TRULY Rubbish?!) then we sort of reach a climax by the time that aforementioned lyric emerges. Backed by a bellicose, almost-tribal drum, Cocker slows his voice down and it is almost like we are listening to the caveman from the cave. Not only does Cocker’s words manage to take us back to the start of time and to the present day but there is that sense of scope and time travelling in the music – one moment, the composition is almost savage and sparse and, the next, it fizzes and bursts with modern-day knowing. Just after Cocker talks about someone, somewhere wearing hot pants – truly, you need to listen to the song a few times as it packs so much in and covers all of time it seems! – we get the much-needed chorus to provide some kick and glee. I love how there is the balance of the serious and witty choruses and that catchy chorus. It will take a few spins for MUST I EVOLVE? to truly embed and soak into the consciousness but you can appreciate it and understands its point of view upon the first listen. The more you hear the song, the better it gets. In fact, without exaggeration, MUST I EVOLVE? is one of the best singles of the year and one overloaded with musical brilliance, wit and some of Cocker’s sharpest and most interesting thoughts. Let’s hope there is a lot more coming from JARV IS… because, even though the debut single is all about a lack of movement and questions whether the hero needs to evolve, JARV IS… themselves are pushing music to places they have not been for a very long time – maybe that was the point of the song all along?!
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
I shall leave things here but I do think that it is great to have new music from Jarvis Cocker. I do not know where JARV IS… will head next but, judging but the constantly unanswered question that is posed, there will be other iterations and revelations. One would hope an album is forthcoming and we get more delight. I do feel that music needs to keep taking notes from Cocker regarding what we need and why he is so revered. The man has been writing these incredible and life-affirming songs since the 1990s and he is not one of these artists who completely changes and loses spark after all these years. If anything, the passing years and the experience he has means the music is more nuanced and layered. That might be a bold claim but I feel the Jarvis Cocker of now is a little stronger and wiser than he was back in the heyday of Pulp. If the debut single from JARV IS… suggests someone who is stuck in his ways and understands that others around him are evolving, the music itself is much more advanced and relevant than what is being made by anyone else. That irony of Cocker asking whether he needs to grow and step into the modern world and, at the same time, giving us music that is completely fresh and needed. There is nobody like him in the music business and I cannot wait to see where he heads next. Every solo album that Cocker has released saw singles and exposure so there will be more to come from JARV IS… Mouths are already salivating guessing when an album might arrive and whether Cocker will head on the road. Many fans around the globe are keen to see the man perform and I am sure that will be in the mind of Cocker. He is a true individual and innovator whose wit, unusual cool and keen intellect still sounds completely daring and unique decades after he came onto the scene. It is amazing to see how long Cocker has been going and (the fact) he still produces these songs that we can all get behind and understand.
IN THIS PHOTO: Dana Distortion
Maybe the man of Common People has gone and he has had to grow but, in a way, there is part of Cocker’s psyche that is frozen in the 1990s forever – the young man in stasis and cryogenically preserved for all of time. Let us finish up now and let you go about your day. I have had a lot of fun investigating Jarvis Cocker and his band; a fantastic song that has brightened up the week and left us with some questions. Cocker poses an important one in MUST I EVOLVE? (namely, whether he needs to stop dragging his knuckles to Frankie Knuckles and embrace modernity) but the listener will have many follow-ups. Will we get an album by the summer? Is there going to be gigs from JARV IS… and will there be announcements soon? Although JARV IS… and Cocker are not on Twitter and there are not many good modern photos to be found, one can forgive them/him. The man is this demi-god who you must obey and are always enthralled by so, even though there are some minor flaws and demands, it is easy to forgive someone who has given so much to music and continues to do so…
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
TO this very day.
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