Reviews

Joe Cocker: Cry Me A River

Joe Cocker is the only person in this entire hour-long program who seems oblivious to the fact that he's being filmed. The fact that he won a Grammy two years later seems like a miracle.


Joe Cocker

Cry Me A River

Length: 58
MPAA rating: N/A
Label: Eagle Rock
UK Release Date: 2008-08-25
US Release Date: 2008-09-16
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

Joe Cocker burst onto the scene in 1968 with his first record, With a Little Help From My Friends, consolidated his success with its eponymous follow-up, became a star at Woodstock, and in 1970 teamed with Leon Russell and a cast of dozens for the Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour. That tour essentially wore him out, and although he continued to have hits throughout the '70s, he never really scaled the heights of his earliest records until an unlikely duet with Jennifer Warnes. "Up Where We Belong", from the film An Officer and a Gentleman, was a massive hit, and gave Cocker a second career. But that wasn't until 1982. A lot (or a little, depending on your perspective) happened in between.

And so we find Cocker in 1980, having not put out an album in two years, performing for the German TV program Rockpalast as though he's entirely unaware of what's going on. Cocker is the only person in this entire hour-long program who seems oblivious to the fact that he's being filmed. Worse, it often seems like he couldn't care less that there's a live audience a few feet away from him. His band, to the contrary, is obviously all too aware that they're on TV, and look like a bunch of fools as a result, making agonized, exaggerated faces and never looking like they're being spontaneous or actually having fun. This role-playing has the effect of making Cocker look even more bored, and since he's supposed to be the star, this sinks the performance.

It didn't have to be this way, necessarily, as the set list is heavy on classic Cocker. But the opening "Cry Me a River", the Julie London torch song transformed into a raucous free-for-all, would never reach its Mad Dogs level of brilliant chaos. While Cocker looks awful, he doesn't sound particularly bad, just uninterested. And it's hard to blame him when you watch and listen to his five-piece band and three backing vocalists. Everything that's wrong with all of them is on clear display during the opener. The band is solidly professional and polished, but prone to rock-star posturing and very unsuited to be backing up Cocker, who needs something a bit looser and more spontaneous to work with. And the girls are just awful. They're screechy and don't mesh well. (And those outfits!)

These problems inform the entire set and especially destroy the vintage numbers like "Feelin' Alright", "Delta Lady" and "With a Little Help From My Friends", which is overly long because the players apparently think it's supposed to be. Similarly, just when you think the closing "High Time We Went" is threatening to turn into a bloated instrumental showcase, it does.

Two covers from Cocker's then-most-recent effort, 1978's Luxury You Can Afford, look great on paper and absolutely tank musically. The crowd really digs "Whiter Shade of Pale", presumably since it was a mammoth hit everywhere, but there's no sense of drama and the excitement is inexplicable. "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" has a rock-oriented arrangement that just doesn't work.

There are two performances that rise above the mediocrity. "Put Out the Light" isn't even all that special, but it's a tight performance that avoids any excess noodling and faux showmanship, and that's enough to make it a standout on this particular night. But the real highlight of Cry Me a River is "You Are So Beautiful", the extremely sentimental but quite lovely ballad sung by everyone from composer Billy Preston to Marge Simpson. Cocker's version is the most famous, and the modesty of the arrangement is a godsend here, because for a brief couple minutes he's naked and can't coast through the song. The feeling vanishes as soon as the song's over and "With a Little Help From My Friends" starts up, but it's nice while it lasts.

"Up Where We Belong" would lift Cocker to number one, a Grammy, and rejuvenated possibilities. Cry Me a River makes that seem like a miracle.

3


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Music

The 10 Best Experimental Albums of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.

Books

John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Their Fellow Freedom Riders Are Celebrated in 'Breach of Peace'

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were titans of the Civil Rights struggle, but they are far from alone in fighting for change. Eric Etheridge's masterful then-and-now project, Breach of Peace, tells the stories of many of the Freedom Riders.

Music

Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford Discusses Their New Album and 20 Years of Music

Johnathon Ford has overseen Unwed Sailor for more than 20 years. The veteran musician shows no sign of letting up with the latest opus, Look Alive.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Jazz Trombonist Nick Finzer Creates a 'Cast of Characters'

Jazz trombonist Nick Finzer shines with his compositions on this mainstream jazz sextet release, Cast of Characters.

Music

Datura4 Travel Blues-Rock Roads on 'West Coast Highway Cosmic'

Australian rockers Datura4 take inspiration from the never-ending coastal landscape of their home country to deliver a well-grounded album between blues, hard rock, and psychedelia.

Books

Murder Is Most Factorial in 'Eighth Detective'

Mathematician Alex Pavesi's debut novel, The Eighth Detective, posits mathematical rules defining 'detective fiction'.

Music

Eyedress Sets Emotions Against Shoegaze Backdrops on 'Let's Skip to the Wedding'

Eyedress' Let's Skip to the Wedding is a jaggedly dreamy assemblage of sounds that's both temporally compact and imaginatively expansive, all wrapped in vintage shoegaze ephemera.

Film

Of Purges and Prescience: On David France's LGBTQ Documentary, 'Welcome to Chechnya'

The ongoing persecution of LGBTQ individuals in Chechnya, or anywhere in the world, should come as no surprise, or "amazement". It's a motif undergirding the history of civil society that certain people will always be identified for extermination.

Television

Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.

Film

Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".

Music

The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.

Music

The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.

Music

Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.

Music

​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.

Music

John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.