Jarvis Cocker has always been one of rock’s greatest wry wits, from his days in Pulp slinging Brit-pop bangers about the British class system to more recent solo joints like his 2009 tune “I Never Said I Was Deep,” a bit of Bowie-esque bloat that felt a little like Ziggy Stardust doing self-lacerating stand-up.
The latest edition to the Cocker canon, “Must I Evolve?” — released under his new nom de pop, Jarv Is… — is a hilarious distress call from a man left behind by life, love and history itself. “Must I evolve?” Cocker asks, “Must I change?” as a chorus of female backup singers coldly responds, “yes yes yes yes.” Sounding as poshly acerbic as ever, Cocker contrasts humankind’s slow, gory evolution out of the primordial mire to his own plight as a guy trying haplessly to adapt socially, culturally, romantically and emotionally to a world that’s left him behind: “Dragging my knuckles/Listening to Frankie Knuckles,” he groans. But if this guy is going out, he’s going out with a fight; the song is a Kraut-rock-tinged psychedelic spree, with Cocker singing his lyrics with grim fortitude, thumblessly wielding his desperation like a blunt weapon.
Though “Must I Evolve?” is a veritable hymn to obsolescence, sung by an artist who reached his commercial peak in 1996 with Pulp’s “Common People,” it’s actually somewhat timely, arriving a couple days after an article in the New York Times bemoaning the sorry plight of Generation X has inspired a Twitter orgy of people defiantly celebrating the most comically Gen X thing about themselves (“ran an REM fan site from 1996 – 2014,” “started a zine just to make fun of another zine,” etc.).
It’s proof that being out of style will no ever go out of style, and reminds us that, in his own strange way, Cocker still has his finger delicately poised atop a certain kind of barely audible cultural pulse, one you can only hear with the proper equipment.