In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week, inspired by Jack White’s new solo effort, we’re picking songs by solo acts that split from our favorite bands.
Britpop band Pulp made its name partly on the sex-god persona that frontman Jarvis Cocker created for himself: a sultry growl, gyrating hips, endless songs about fucking. Pulp more or less dissolved after its 2001 album, We Love Life, and Cocker put out his first of two solo efforts five years later. The album was still rooted in Pulp’s splashy, manufactured sound, but showed a few signs of maturity. Most notable was a song that wasn’t about underwear or happy endings or e’s and wizz. It was a hidden track at the end of 2006’s Jarvis (also known as The Jarvis Cocker Record), and the song’s title doesn’t even appear in the track listing. “Running The World” is political anthem decrying the 1 percent (a term that had not been coined when the song came out), with all of Cocker’s typical candidness and indignation, soured with a little bit of newfound cynicism: “Well did you hear, there’s a natural order / Those most deserving will end up with the most / That the cream cannot help but always rise up to the top / Well I say: Shit floats.” This resigned sarcasm wasn’t new—in Pulp’s most famous song, the mid-’90s sex anthem, “Common People,” Cocker takes the piss out of a woman who’s trying to be poor just to be cool—but a decade later, Cocker’s sneering took on a more political tone: “It’s an ideal way to order the world: Fuck the morals / does it make any money?”
I bought tickets to Pitchfork Music Festival in 2008 about 10 minutes after Jarvis Cocker was announced in the lineup. I’d thought it would be my only chance to see him live—fortunately I was proven wrong when Pulp did a few reunion shows in 2012—and so I positioned myself about six people back from the stage. Even without performing any Pulp material, Cocker still brought the sex god, with enough swagger and posing to keep everybody screaming for the entire set, though he ended by bringing everybody back to Pulp’s working-class beginnings in Sheffield. It was just after sunset, his shaggy hair was tangled with sweat, and Cocker called an audience of Americans to arms—“If you thought things had changed / Friend, you’d better think again / Bluntly put in the fewest of words”—and we all waved our hands and yelled along with him: “Cunts are still running the world! Cunts are still running the world!”