[17 February 2012]
Full disclosure: this record is a bit of mess. At least at first. Cosmo Jarvis moves between pop, snotty, Green Day-like punk, ska, reggae, hip-hop, and even a dash of heavy metal (sometimes in the space of a bridge and a chorus) with an effortlessness and a carelessness that you have to stand back and admire time and again across this disc. True to the restlessness exhibited here Jarvis is restless in his career, having worked as an actor, director, producer and a man capable of playing loads of instruments. The high school drop-out has written over 300 songs to date and may be the first songwriter to pay homage to gay pirates.
More full disclosure: Jarvis’s efforts sometimes come across as sophomoric (the aforementioned “Gay Pirates”), maybe even a little daft (“Dave’s House”) and certainly, to a degree, derivative (take your pick). It doesn’t matter because Jarvis somehow convinces you that his restless spirit and fickle attention span are irresistible and original such that you can’t help but join in the fun.
Fun is one of the key words for “Blame It On Me”, a tune that Jarvis apparently wrote in the early moments of his teens; perhaps that accounts for its wide-eyed bluegrass vibe and easy-to-sing choruses. It doesn’t matter because it’s as much a part of his artistic character as slippery style-hopping of “Is the World Strange?”, during which he manages to combine Beach Boys-esque harmonies with hip-hop beats.
It seems appropriate then that The Artist would find time to get introspective, via “Let Me Out of My Head”, a tune that would make those lads from Oklahoma’s Flaming Lips and Great Britain’s Queen proud in its ability to marry the truly odd with heartfelt emotions and perfect melody. In fact, if some of the record initially seems joke-driven it’s perhaps because it is, but “Let Me Out of My Head”, “The Wave That Made Them Happy”, and “The Talking Song” hint at a deeper, more thoughtful artist than you might first expect or even hear upon first listen.
The U.S. edition of the record comes with four exclusive tracks, “Screw You Moon”, a space-y bit of fun, “Road Closed” (which is like John Legend on vacation), “Wealth Care”, and “Wrong Kind Of Happy”. It’s sure great to have those songs appending the proper release, though it might also have been nice to have them as a separate EP a short way down the road as they add to a record that already demands a great deal of time and attention from the listener and, for a moment, the artistic vision becomes a bit diffuse. (On the other hand, a few of the bonus cuts are superior to the proper album’s closing offering, “Betty”.)
A decidedly welcome addition to the music world, Cosmo Jarvis and Is The World Strange Or Am I Strange? demonstrate that Jarvis is a one-of-a-kind, neither painfully earnest singer-songwriter, nor painfully smart-assed jokester, but, instead, somewhere comfortably and refreshingly in the middle. This is by no stretch a perfect album, but is one of the most imaginative and far-reaching ones you’re likely to hear from an ostensibly mainstream pop artist this year. Very much an artist to watch.