Jarvis Cocker was back with the same lanky fringe, thick black glasses, arch stage moves and droll repartee, looking much as he did in his Britpop heyday a decade ago when he charmed us with artfully populist hits such as “Common People” and was hailed a hero for sabotaging Michael Jackson’s megalomaniac performance at the Brit Awards.
But on closer inspection this wasn’t the same Jarvis at all. Somewhere down the line – in 1998 to be precise, when Pulp released their Britpop-burnout album This is Hardcore – he lost the will to entertain. His outlook grew bleaker and he drifted to the margins, a place he’d spent so long trying to escape from but seemed content to re-embrace having grown disillusioned by fame.
After Pulp split up in 2002, he relocated to Paris, turned 40 and became a father. A time of mellow contentment? Evidently not, for the bleakness persists on his first solo album, Jarvis, which he debuted at this comeback show (coincidentally on the same night as his old adversary Jacko’s comeback ended in boos).
He opened with “Fat Children”, a punky diatribe about being mugged by jumbo-sized juvenile assailants, “maggots without the sense to become flies”, in Cocker’s words.
This misanthropic streak resurfaced regularly. “I Will Kill Again” was a disarmingly tender, Scott Walker-influenced song about a serial killer. The severely titled “From Auschwitz to Ipswich” ended with Cocker intoning the clever but forlorn couplet, “They want our way of life/Well, they can take mine any time they like.”
Various ex-members of Pulp helped out in the band, most notably Richard Hawley, now a successful singer-songwriter in his own right, whose shimmering, graceful guitar playing brought light and shade to Cocker’s gloomy lyrics.
While the music may have lacked Pulp’s old vitality, there was a compensating sense of subtlety and a slow-burning sort of tunefulness instead.
Not for Jarvis a Messianic, Jacko-style comeback: this was a measured, mature performance, impressive but at heart downbeat.
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