"Looks like we're in for stormy weather/With death and destruction coming through," sings Jarvis Cocker on "Heavy Weather", one of the better tracks from his first solo album. He's not joking: Jarvis is fraught with unease and brutal intimations of mortality - reflecting, perhaps, Cocker's own uncertain career position.
"Heavy Weather" was the first piece Cocker wrote after time spent providing material for the likes of Charlotte Gainsbourg, Marianne Faithfull and Nancy Sinatra. Indeed, "Don't Let Him Waste Your Time" was originally written for Sinatra. "You can kiss him where the sun don't shine, but baby, don't let him waste your time," sings Cocker, without quite disguising his own vested interest. It sets the somewhat jaundiced tone of the album, anticipating the end of civilisation ("It's the same, from Auschwitz to Ipswich") in "From A To I" and advising, "Don't believe it if I claim to be your friend, 'cos given half a chance, I know that I will kill again" in "I Will Kill Again".
Elsewhere, cartoons are criticised in "Disney Time" for the unrealistic expectations prompted by their idealistic moral code, while hedonism is depicted in "Tonite" as just another life of not-so-quiet desperation. Typically, Cocker's sympathies are for outsiders - the outsize reject "Big Julie", and even the "Fat Children" who "took my life", but whom he looks forward to haunting.
The only respite comes with the closing track "Quantum Theory", a blissful ambient ballad imagining that in some parallel dimension "somewhere, everyone is happy ... everything is gonna be all right".
It can't help but seem rather too little, too late - which is not to say that the album doesn't have compensatory attractions even in its darkest moments, courtesy of the inventive musical settings conjured up by Cocker, Pulp bassist Steve Mackey, Mercury nominee Richard Hawley and Fat Truckers drummer Ross Orton. Hawley is typically sensitive, essaying his best Byrds jangle on "Heavy Weather" and a beautifully fluid retro twang on "Tonite", while Cocker employs a battery of keyboards, marimba and chimes - and even a vocal loop lifted from Tommy James and the Shondells - to colour his songs. The result may not be the masterpiece one might have hoped for, but it's a lot better than the last Pulp album, at least.
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