During the heady days of Britpop I was a Jarvis Cocker obsessive; following Pulp around from town to town, skipping school to buy concert tickets and waiting outside venues and hotels for autographs and photos until all hours of the morning. Once the frontman even made a joke about my name . . . ‘Camilla Parker-Bowles?’ he asked – a terrible pun but it still made my 16-year-old schoolgirl self blush and giggle. Ten years on and the stalking has most definitely stopped, but Cocker still makes it hard not to adore him. He’s older, a little thinner on top and even married with a child, and although the wiry, posterior-wiggling, Sheffield-born misfit may have been replaced by a Paris-dwelling elder statesman of indie, his recent solo work has shown that he’s still as musically relevant as ever.
Released in November last year, Jarvis is crammed full of infectious, intelligent pop music peppered with eccentric musings on life, sweeping strings, squalling guitars, sombre pianos and even the occasional glockenspiel. Cocker paints pictures of everything from seedy family men with murderous intentions to stormy relationships, midlife malaise and Tottenham spectres, and for the first time since 1998’s This is Hardcore he proves himself a musical and lyrical tour de force and reaffirms his place as one of the country’s most important songwriters. His influence can also be found everywhere in 2007’s music scene from the mischievous guitar stomp of The Long Blondes to the dark lyrical underbelly of the Arctic Monkeys, dapper showmanship of Pete Doherty and Kate Nash’s candid storytelling.
The album’s brilliance was also a huge relief for anyone who had lost faith during the singer’s bizarre dabblings in electro side-projects, DJing, directing, film acting and television presenting. After the arduous task that was Pulp’s final offering We Love Life he threatened to stop writing songs altogether. Thankfully he didn’t and after a brief spell donning skeleton costumes as Darren Spooner in electronic act Relaxed Muscle, he successfully returned to more conventional music-making and even curated his own Meltdown Festival in London’s South Bank centre which featured performances from Motörhead, The Stooges, Devo, Cornershop and The Jesus and Mary Chain among others. Recent live gigs have seen Cocker at his best, camply covering rock classics, duetting with lady of the moment Beth Ditto and frantically shaking his barnet and scissor-kicking around the stage, clearly relishing fame again.
‘Well, once you've resigned yourself to the fact that you are the more mature pop performer and you're past the age you ever thought you would do it, you might as well do it as long as you can,’ he told The Observer. ‘As long as I can still lift a microphone, then I'll do it, you know.’ With the majority of his 90s contemporaries either rehashing glory days past or having washed their hands of music altogether, Jarvis Cocker is on top form and as significant as ever. Let’s hope a long, prolific and thoroughly unpredictable career is still on the cards. (Camilla Pia)
Oyster Stage, Friday