Clandestine meetings in hotel rooms, malaise, regret and laments on modern life are set to decadent, lush orchestration in a new collaboration by Jarvis Cocker and Chilly Gonazles in their new album Room 29, simultaneously a folie a deux and guest tour of a fine hotel in Marmont. These Hotel lobby maestros don their expensive hotel robes and deliver concept with class.
This calmer, elder gentleman of pop aura Jarvis Cocker has grown into, encouraged by a gig on 6music has made him the sort of wise man/beat poet of alt music: whether he’s fronting his own band Pulp, electronic duo The Heavy, and now, with the imitable professor of music with a degree in performance – Chilly Gonzales. Together, they have come up with the most rare of music releases – a novelty record without gimmick, low humor set to high-class sound.
Chilly Gonzales is also no stranger to collaboration, as he’s a much sought after doctor of harmony, skipping into your recording studio and all over your tracks: once you know his style, you can hear him all over Drake’s ‘Marvin’s Room’ and on the latest Daft Punk record, to name a few of many. He is a connoisseur and harmony is his buffet. Here, though, he feels on equal footing with Jarvis: the George to his Lennon and McCartney, Rodgers to Cocker’s Hammerstein. They rely on each other throughout the record – and it genuinely feels like a twosome we’ve been missing out on.
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There are no clues in the artwork, the listing or the blurb as to what genre you’re getting into – the artwork boasts the traditional Deutsche Gramophon yellow seal you usually see on Chilly’s favourite pianist Glen Gould’s classical recordings of the 1950s – not an easy thing to come by. But then just when you’re ready to label this alternative classical, on the opposite corner of the artwork is Parental Advisory sticker. No, you have to do something very rare these days: and trust the record. And the first track, ‘Room 29’, does not disappoint, simultaneously immersing and easing you in, just like swiping your card and entering the empty hotel room, ready and waiting for you at Chateau Marmont, the setting for this decadent, bizarre album. Throughout the album, Jarvis is so close to the microphone he’s practically eating it: you can hear every breathy chuckle at a witty lyric, even the saliva moving around in his mouth. His intimate, even vocal is complemented by Chilly’s idyllic solo accompaniment, using just enough embellishment to accompany the piece as well as rhythmically not missing a syllable, in tandem with the voice, making these opening tracks sound almost symbiotic.
This is a 16 track album, in the traditional 3-5 minute format – but there’s also interludes: the first is track three ‘Hotel Stationary’ where melancholic piano wisps’ about like smoke for just under two minutes as a pen scratches on presumably expensive laminated paper. It all serves the concept – that of two bored, aimless souls trapped in a decadent, lush, but generic hotel room, where they’ve found a piano and just been let loose. Up until Track five, it’s just Chilly and Jarvis, before ‘Clara’ where the usual formula gives way at the lyric ‘used to play for you like a …personal orchestra’ picks up and collects a swell of violins for the first time. A great ambush by the dynamic.
And it is not until track seven, the Michael Nyman-esque ‘Belle Boy’ that some darkness comes through – Chilly’s instrumental sounding like Psycho strings with one note repeatedly playing a rhythm some track listings include snippets of interviews of Howard Hughes, American film producer of the 50s, and track titles such as ‘Bombshell’ that serve to instill a Hitchcokian, movie score vibe. Eventually, you realise there are no band instruments, guitar, bass, drums. In a way, this makes most tracks sound the same, and there’s a danger of not being able to untangle the tracks to remember a specific one, but it hardly matters. Forced to listen to this album over again? No hardship.
The gem in the crown is clearly the seven plus minutes devoted to ‘A Trick of the Light’ building to Rachmaninov ‘Brief Encounter’ swells and Jarvis sounding raw – a self-flagellating symphony. Again Chilly’s genius in arrangement shines, returning to phrases, repeating them, embellishing; it feels he’s finally allowed to let loose with his Beethoven fantasy. After these dizzy heights we have a reprise complete with melancholic playing and faux-cheery whistling of the main theme, as we imagine Jarvis leaving Chilly and his piano, the room, and whistling down the hotel hall. Indeed, the sounds of a hotel lift and stepping out onto the street to the wild noise of life outside – it’s a jolt. We got used to finery, witty, dirty lyrics. The last track ‘Ice Cream As The Main Course’ is Chilly and Jarvis being somewhat Old Man, commiserating about modern life, and it’s even a bit Pulp-ish, but it’s oddly placed – it’s a great track, just too much of a comedown, the buzz had already been harshed. But then again, in typical Chilly style, the first track, in it’s final moments, switches suddenly to an ominous minor on the final note, refusing to play fair. Essentially as they have done with this last track. Just like these two to leave an unmade bed and a TV through the window.
‘Room 29’ is out now on Deutsche Grammaphon records
01. Room 29
02. Marmont Overture
04. Interlude 1 – Hotel Stationery
07. Belle Boy
08. Howard Hughes Under the Microscope
10. Interlude 2 – 5 Hours A Day
11. Daddy, You’re Not Watching Me
12. The Other Side
13. The Tearjerker Returns
14. A Trick of the Light
15. Room 29 (Reprise)
16. Ice Cream As Main Course