Relaxed Muscle

A Heavy Nite with Relaxed Muscle

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Primarily seen as a bizarre busman's holiday for Jarvis Cocker where he briefly indulged himself in electroclash insanity after the demise of Pulp, Relaxed Muscle isn't quite as wild as its reputation may suggest -- or as wild as the comically gothic makeup Cocker worse under the guise of Darrin Spooner, the pseudonym he adopted for this band, which also featured Jason Buckle and contributions from Richard Hawley. Their lone album, A Heavy Nite with Relaxed Muscle, is heavy on clangings synths and drum machines, but it's never as confrontational as the electroclash that provided inspiration for Cocker and company in the year of 2003: the artiness here finds Jarvis reconnecting with his post-punk roots, in a way. After all, what is the duo's theme song, "Muscle Music," but an updated version of "Ant Rap," right down to the Burundi drums pulsating through the track? And that's what makes A Heavy Nite with Relaxed Muscle something less than a heavy experience -- sure, it's all painted in dark colors and accentuated with highlights of noise, but it's hard to call a record that's so clearly designed to be fun as heavy. Jarvis isn't laboring over lyrics as he was during the days after Different Class -- as exquisite as moments of This Is Hardcore and We Love Life are, they appear painstakingly constructed -- and even if he's trying run in the fast and furious circles of electroclash, he can't leave his love of pop behind. Much of Heavy Nite is grounded in glam, particularly in the stomping rhythms and fizzy hooks, which gives this a giddiness missing in latter-day Pulp, a giddiness that's accentuated by such clever co-opts as quoting Travis Bickle for the intro of "Billy Jack," which itself takes its title from another cinematic vigilante of the '70s. This is a throwaway joke, which is only appropriate for an album that's a deliberate throwaway -- yet that constructed tawdriness actually gives Heavy Nite substance. It may be cheap and sleazy, quickly written and recorded, but Relaxed Muscle's combined skills as pop writers are evident throughout the album, and their combined with an addictive sense of fun that makes the record a memorable low-rent thrill.

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