Always a sharp student of pop, Jarvis Cocker's solo debut -- simply, cleanly titled Jarvis on the cover, not so simply called The Jarvis Cocker Album in the liner notes -- unmistakably hearkens back to '70s solo debuts from singers who have just stepped away from their bands, whether it's in the terrific washed-out artwork or in its moody contemplative feel. Given the hushed atmosphere of much of the record, it'd be easy to call this introspective, but the curious thing about Jarvis is that it never feels as personal as any of Pulp's '90s albums. Whether it was the impassioned, sex-obsessed His 'n' Hers, the bracing, biting social commentary of Different Class or the weary trawl through the heart of darkness on This Is Hardcore, Cocker's writing was as twitchy and revealing as an exposed nerve: he may have trussed up his thoughts in metaphors and filtered his feelings through narratives, but it's impossible to hear "Babies," "Common People" or "The Fear" without imagining Cocker himself as the protagonist, the central figure in each song. Here, that's not so much the case. Cocker may well tackle topics close to his heart as a life-long misshape now facing his forties with a new wife and baby, but there's little sense of confession on Jarvis: instead, the music is unmistakably the work of a craftsman. That word can seem pejorative to some, since it implies that emotion has been sacrificed for mechanized musicianship, but that's hardly true in regard to this album. This is exquisite craft, the kind that a pop singer/songwriter who has been working at this for a quarter-of-a-century should have: Cocker knows how to structure a song, he knows how to write a lyric with momentum and wit, he knows how to construct a pop record as thrilling as "Black Magic," built around an inspired "Crimson and Clover" sample. That's one of only a couple of moments that are straight-up pop, the other notable ones being the wonderful opener "Don't Let Him Waste Your Time," which glides back and forth on an irresistible elastic hook, and the mean, pummeling "Fat Children," quite possibly the hardest Cocker has ever rocked. These songs -- along with the cheerfully vulgar and inspired protest song "Running the World," buried at the end of the album -- stand out among the meditative numbers here, songs that recall the measured craft of We Love Life but lack both the epic scale and pervading sense of hope that characterized that album. While hope may not be entirely absent here, Cocker stares dead-on into much of the dread that's permeated the new millennium. The specter of terrorism hangs over the remarkable "From Auschwitz to Ipswich," and "Running the World" directly attacks presidents and prime ministers, but Cocker also strikes out against corporatization, against apathy, against "fat children," he captures the creeping sense that Western society is slowly, surely turning morally bankrupt -- and he does it with a weariness that stops short of resignation: he's doing this because he has to, because that's what adult artists do. And this is adult pop, no question about it -- even "Don't Let Him Waste Your Time" feels built on the idea that the clock is running short for the woman at its center -- but it is an adult pop that escapes conformity without succumbing to the high-class fashions and stylish obscurism of indie yuppies; it doesn't feel like hipster posturing, it's as much a reflection of Cocker's lyrical and musical obsessions as any of his Pulp albums, only it's made specifically for solitude, not the dance clubs. Nevertheless, like the rest of Cocker's work, Jarvis hits the gut first and then lingers in the mind -- and even if it isn't as immediate as the prime work of Pulp, it's a richly nuanced, complicated album that finds Cocker near the top of his craft as a writer and record maker.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine