At many points in Jarvis Cocker's career, nobody could have blamed him for throwing in the towel. Hell, nobody might even have noticed. His band Pulp struggled just to maintain cult status for their first decade and a half. Even John Peel, who gave the Sheffield ensemble an early break in 1981, recording them for his influential BBC radio show, didn't bother inviting Pulp back for 12 years. And he was a fan.

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So it comes as little surprise when Cocker, 43, admits he entertained notions of quitting. "I'd been thinking about just stopping music altogether and concentrating on being a responsible and useful member of society," he says from his Paris home.

The twist is, the singer entertained those thoughts just a couple of years ago, before starting work on his solo debut, simply entitled Jarvis. Luckily, he quickly disavowed becoming an ordinary civilian. "I realized that was impossible for me," he confesses drily.

By that point, the gangly, bespectacled Cocker had become one of England's most unlikely pop stars. In 1995, Pulp hit number two with the anthem "Common People." Rife with songs about furtive sex and other misadventures, their chart-topping fifth album, Different Class, won the coveted Mercury Music Prize. A year later, Cocker made tabloid headlines after interrupting Michael Jackson's performance at the 1996 Brit Awards.

But then things got tough. "The final two Pulp albums took quite a long time to write and finish," he says. "And I thought, 'If it has turned into such a long, drawn-out process, maybe you should just stop. You've said what you want to say; why force it?'" Cocker had married and was about to relocate to France. Shortly before the 2002 singles collection Hits was released, Pulp officially went on indefinite hiatus.

Jarvis, the record, sounds like the logical progression from latter-day Pulp, retaining Cocker's biting wit, memorable croon, and flair for skewed melodrama. "People say they can tell it's me, because they recognize the voice, but they know it's something different as well." The album may not sound too shocking to fans, but regardless, Cocker had take several detours before he felt comfortable making it.

First came Relaxed Muscle, an ersatz electroclash outing with pal Jason Buckle. Wearing a skeleton suit and face paint, Cocker masqueraded as Darren Spooner, a flop nightclub entertainer and failed husband and parent driven to making crap techno. "Thinking about marriage and fatherhood, the terrifying prospect of being a responsible adult, made me invent this character who was the opposite of that."

Relaxed Muscle didn't last long, but its influence did. Since pretending to be Spooner indefinitely was bound to land him in a loony bin, Cocker "realized I had to absorb, or balance, that dark side, within myself." Several compositions that eventually surfaced on Jarvis, particularly "I Will Kill Again," address the necessity of acknowledging negative impulses.

But before that could happen, Cocker had to write songs. Any songs. He was feeling creatively exhausted when the invitation to contribute to Nancy Sinatra's Morrissey-endorsed 2004 comeback album arrived. He came up with "Don't Let Him Waste Your Time" and "Baby's Coming Back to Me," both of which he eventually reclaimed on Jarvis. "Realizing that I still could write songs—and that I still kind of enjoyed it—was an important step to take."

Yet after penning a few catchy melodies laced with minimal lyrical bile, Cocker's "dark side" resurfaced, ushering forth "Running the World." Originally, the singer considered this vitriolic attack on class disparity as an opening salvo. Worried it would prompt listeners to brand Jarvis his "angry, political album," he eventually relegated "Running" to hidden-track status, but its job was done.

"That song made me realize that trying to write about stuff that seems a bit inappropriate is an important part of what I did," he says. It was a mentality not dissimilar from the one that had inspired him to form Pulp in 1978. "I do tend to write conventionally structured songs, with verses and choruses and middle eights, but then using that as a kind of Trojan horse, to smuggle in something not quite right."

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The last, and oddest, piece in the progression came in 2005, when Cocker wrote and performed three songs in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, as part of an imaginary band at a school mixer. To minimize outside interference, Cocker and his cohorts (including Jonny Greenwood and Phil Selway from Radiohead) banged out the tunes as quickly as possible. "I found that a much more pleasant way of making a record," he says. Not only did he retain his mental and physical health, but the arrangements and performances felt fresher. Consequently, Jarvis was recorded in under two weeks.

After earning accolades upon its November 2006 release overseas, Jarvis generated enough interest Stateside to score domestic release, and garner Cocker spots at Coachella and on Letterman. While he is pleased with the album's reception, don't be surprised if he takes another five years before the next one. recommended

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