Where To Start With... Jarvis Cocker
Sheffield has produced its fair share of iconic bands down the years, from the likes of Human League and ABC in the 1980s to more recent success stories such as Arctic Monkeys, but few of the city's musical exports have enjoyed a more unlikely rise to National Treasure status as former Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker.
Formed in the city in the early 1980s, Pulp were art-school oddballs whose early output was so difficult to categorise that they were once labelled as “a cross between ABBA and The Fall”. Even their most hardcore fans would likely admit that on the evidence of the handful of albums they released at the tail end of the 1980s, Pulp were hardly a band you would single out for mainstream success.
Their hard work eventually paid off in 1992 with the release of His 'n' Hers, a breakthrough album that came at a time when a new wave of British bands were beginning to emerge in the wake of the fading Grunge scene that had exploded and dominated the charts in the beginning of the 90s. Jarvis Cockers' erudite manner and fey, slightly awkward stage presence as Pulp's frontman marked him out as one of the more intriguing figures in the landscape of what would become known as Britpop and, along with the likes of Blur's Damon Albarn and Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher, would eventually emerge as one the era's figureheads.
Pulp hit their commercial peak with the release of 1994's Different Class, and although the band released two more albums in 1999's This Is Hardcore and 2001's We Love Life, the band went on indefinite hiatus in 2002 – save for a brief live reunion in 2010 - leaving Cocker to explore other avenues.
And explore them he has. His varied career since then has seen him create documentaries for the BBC and become one of the nation's most cherished broadcasters, hosting his own show on BBC 6Music, Jarvis Cocker's Sunday Service.
He's also released several solo albums and embarked on various collaborative projects with the likes of Iggy Pop and Chilly Gonzales, the most recent of which began as an experimental live band based around the idea of getting the audience to participate in the creative process. Reportedly encouraged by Portishead's Geoff Barrow and others to record the results, Cocker set about creating an album with his new bandmates, who include harpist/pianist Serafina Steer, violinist Emma Smith, Three Trapped Tigers drummer Adam Betts, James Taylor Quartet bassist Andrew McKinney and frequent Jarvis collaborator Jason Buckle, best-known for his releases under the name All Seeing I.
Released under the name JARV-IS..., the resulting album Beyond the Pale was originally scheduled for release earlier this year, but became one of the many releases snared up in the coronavirus pandemic. Happily, though, Beyond the Pale makes its delayed arrival in stores today and to celebrate Jarvis Cocker's musical return we've picked out five of his finest moments to date, from Pulp and beyond.
You can also find the video for the album's most recent single 'Must I Evolve?' below...
1994's His 'n' Hers was Pulp's real breakthrough album and yielded several hit singles including 'Lipgloss' and 'Do You Remember The First Time', but for our money the real stand-out on the album is 'Babies'. The band sound at their most refined here and Cocker's tale of awkward teenage lust shows his knack for conjuring vivid images of suburban life.
If His 'n' Hers was Pulp's first real taste of success, its follow-up Different Class cemented their position as one of the Britpop era's defining bands. Songs like 'Disco 2000' and 'Sorted for Es and Whizz' became anthems of the 1990s, but none more so than 'Common People'. With a typically sardonic Cocker lyric telling the story of a rich girl he met studying “sculpture at St. Martin's College”, the song perfectly sends up the glamourisation of the working class and it remains one of Pulp's finest moments.
'This Is Hardcore'
By the time of 1999's This Is Hardcore, Pulp – and several other bands – were clearly become weary of the 'Britpop' label and while the whole album feels like a deliberate attempt to distance themselves musically from their previous two albums, none capture the experimental spirit of the album quite so well as its title track. Working in a range of influences from trip-hop to jazz, but still sounding undeniably like Pulp, this is as far out as the band went. Like the rest of the album, 'This Is Hardcore' is a grower rather than an immediate earworm, but it's still great.
Taken from Cocker's first solo album, titled simply Jarvis, 'Black Magic' is one of the more lively tracks on the album and probably the closest thing to a straight-up rocker you're likely to get from Jarvis Cocker. Sassy, ragged and raw, it's probably one of the most enjoyable solo tracks he's done up until recently.
'The Tearjerker Returns'
Our final pick is taken from Cocker's collaboration with pianist Chilly Gonzales (who, you may remember, was one of a handful of contributors to Daft Punk's 2013 album Random Access Memories). Titled Room 29, the whole album was recorded in a room at the famous (or infamous) Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, whose many claims to fame include appearing in hit 2016 musical La La Land, being the setting for Charles Bukowski's Hollywood, and the site of the deaths of both John Belushi and photographer Helmut Newton.
Following in the footsteps of the many who have found inspiration within the hotel's walls, from Tim Burton to Sofia Coppola, Chilly and Jarvis capture the spirit of the place beautifully on the album and 'The Tearjerker Returns' is its real standout moment.