Los Angeles' Chateau Marmont exists on the precipice of magic and kitsch, a place where mythology and tragedy intertwine so neither is discernable from the other. In other words, it's an ideal tableau for Jarvis Cocker, the former Pulp frontman who has always been drawn to the intersection between high and low culture. A collaboration with Chilly Gonzalez, an electro musician with strong roots in classic pop, Room 29 is intimate cabaret -- the kind of album that could be performed at a dinner theater, where the pianist runs the length of his keyboard as the vocalist murmurs poetry. Apart from an interlude where woodwinds gently breeze into view, a wave of vibraphones, and songs where strings are so subtle they're merely felt, Room 29 retains this sense of intimacy, a combination that can almost read as camp but Cocker and Gonzalez aren't quite so gauche. Clever men that they are, they know that the form they've chosen can be read as cheesy but they wink at their audience, then choose to take the whole enterprise seriously: although they may elicit a wry smile, these tales of Hollywood glory and tragedy aren't played for laughs; they're serious business. Sometimes, Room 29 can be a bit arch -- Gonzalez's piano runs can be a bit florid and Cocker's lyrics can veer toward the purple -- but an ode to the decadence of West Hollywood shouldn't be restrained, even when it's austere. Room 29 impresses because it's simultaneously intimate and theatrical, a record that seems designed to be a whisper shared amidst a packed room. Perhaps the individual songs seem ephemeral when isolated on their own, but that's because Room 29 is constructed as a tone poem, a collection of songs, poetry, and incidental music that's designed to be a hyper-reality -- an intersection of the glamorous past of Hollywood and our arch modern sensibility, and it succeeds gloriously at that.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine