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Relaxed Muscle | A Heavy Night With... (Rough Trade)
Despite promising to slip off the celebrity radar by disappearing to France to make babies with his new wife and to build a career as a film director in the wake of Pulp's 'trial' separation, Jarvis Cocker has returned rather quickly to the British musical fray. Making a bizarre but enthralling spectacle of himself supporting Lee Hazlewood at the Royal Festival Hall, guesting on the new Pastels album and mucking about with Marianne Faithful, is hardly the way go about hiding from the British media glare.
And now this, Cocker's first fully-fledged semi-solo album release under the Relaxed Muscle moniker. 'Different Class' or 'We Love Life' this ain't, but that's not say Cocker has cast his distinctive muse asunder.
Those who witnessed the aforementioned Lee Hazlewood support slot will know what to expect, at least sonically speaking. Imagine if you will/can a mangled amalgam of Suicide's primitive electro-clash, early-Human League synth squelching, latter-day Tricky and erm... (on Muscle Music) Adam Ant. Grinding, unpolished pop noise then, with none of the worthy but dull professional trimmings of Pulp's most recent work.
Amidst this messy musical debris, Cocker adopts his alter-ego as northern pervert poet Darren Spooner. Addicted to sex (Sexualised), always ready for a fight (Tuff It Out), self-loathing and misogynistic ("I tell you one thing/And I ain't lying/I rule my woman with a rod of iron") and in a permanent state of physical/mental despair (Battered).  
Whether this is all just Cocker letting-off steam after the painful plodding of Pulp's last two albums, or whether this is a means to expunge some testosterone before switching over to house-husband duties, the magic and mirth of Cocker's best work still shines through the murky sonic mess. In fact, the deliciously defiant Billy Jack is possibly one of the best pop songs Cocker has given us since Babies and the lamenting Mary (the album's broken-down ballad ending) comes closer to crystallising the post-Britpop/cocaine comedown malaise he struggled to pin down properly on Pulp's 'This Is Hardcore' album.
Whether this is the end of Cocker's confusing but compelling musical career or the start of something new, we're still to find out from the man, but at least with this strange but consistently entertaining side-project we know his gregarious lust for pop life hasn't been sated just yet. Which is, of course, a good thing.

Adrian Pannett
CWAS #13 - Autumn 2003