18 Oct 2015

Cosmo Jarvis / Is The World Strange Or Am I Strange (album review)

Brilliantly evoking Morrissey’s timeless cry ‘has the world changed or have I changed’, Is The World Strange or am I Strange, the second (folky-rocky) album from Devon based singer-songwriter (as well as actor and director) Cosmo Jarvis is a delightful disc from start to finish, spinning tales of uncertainty, tenderness, humour, warmth, pathos, and all manner of emotional reach in its sprawling near 75 minutes run time, these eleven tracks truly run the gamut. It’s hard not to reach for the Divine Comedy’s oft-quoted maxim that ‘all human life is here’.

But you know what, that might not be a bad comparison, because the juggle between funny and not so funny here is as masterful as Neil Hannon’s chamber pop outfit, and it’s a juggle that so often falls flat, because hell, two conflating elements aren’t easy to do right (Sufjan Steven’s early attempts at humour are cringey as all hell, for example).

Cosmo has the knack, then, I guess, exemplified in songs like Sure As Hell Not Jesus (personal favourite) which has a homely ukulele running through it, a rocky break, and subject matter about a dodgy (that kinda dodgy) conflicted priest, told from his perspective. “She said she’s gonna break my nose if I don’t behave next week”, talking about the mother of one of the kids at his parish. It’s a similar case with first track Gay Pirates, which flirts with lewdness (I love the emphasis on the salty sea at the beginning) but is really an utterly lovely ode to romance in any form.

It all reveals itself, though, in the big album centrepiece, Is The World Strange, is a vast, sprawling, probing masterclass, a spoken word/rap ballad culminating in an absolutely RIPPINGLY introspective guitar solo at the end, detailing the thoughts of a man so utterly adrift, trying to fit in, trying to adapt. “Even as a kid, my heart’s what I hid, ‘coz something about it and this planet don’t fit”.

All the songs on this album are about these feelings in some way. Dave’s House, the poppiest song on the album about a proverbial house which provides cover for the cheating narrator of the song, isn’t so much about the cheating in itself but the narrator escaping his circumstances. “Let Me Out Of My Head” speaks for itself; “I could love you so much, but then I hate me just like them”.

Even the ostensibly happiest song on the album, She Doesn’t Mind, which has a Jack Johnson (but so much better) vibe to its ukulele instrumentation, contains an undercurrent of insecurity so well concealed you’d be forgiven for missing it, which makes it all the more devastating when it dawns on us that the song isn’t REALLY about how great the singer’s new girlfriend is, but really how he’s just overjoyed that he’s found someone who’ll actually tolerate him; that subtle twist which makes it go from happy to sad. Masterfully done.

The biggest strength of the album is how it doesn’t just feel autobiographical, but literally soul-bearing. Sure, it might be a bit overlong (the last track, Betty, the heaviest song on here and one of two that flirts with a punk sound, doesn’t quite do enough to warrant its 10 minute runtime), but this is an undeniably BIG album, big on instrumentation, big on songwriting, big on everything, as though Cosmo could barely contain the feelings he’s describing. And call me a raging sentimentalist, but I’ll take an overabundance of feeling than absolutely nothing any day.


(written by declan cochran)