You may not have heard of Cosmo Jarvis, a 22-year-old singer-songwriter hailing from New Jersey, but Stephen Fry certainly has (thank you Twitter), and the comedy God recommends you give the new guy a chance. I say “new guy”, but Jarvis actually released his debut album back in 2009. Don’t bother looking for it in the charts. Undefeated, the rambunctious twenty-something is launching himself back onto the music scene with the hope that 2011 will be the year in which he makes his mark; and judging by the reaction to the first single ‘Gay Pirates’, he might just be in luck.
Is the World Strange or Am I Strange?, released on September 26th, features a lyrical, often hysterical, and at times enjoyable collection of tunes (or ‘shanties’ as the aforementioned ‘Gay Pirates’ would have us believe), leading listeners through a range of musical styles and hypothetical situations. Cosmo’s sound is a curious blend of folk, pop rock, ‘punk’ (in his own special way), and of course the occasional nod to rap. Some people will undoubtedly love this variety and call the album ‘innovative’ or ‘eclectic’. To me, the album is a rough stab at success by aimlessly bashing through genre after genre in the hope that one of the tracks will be picked out as a hit – in an age that has seen a Rick Astley revival, who knows what will become the next big thing? In a way this tactic has worked, and the originality of the lyrics to ‘Gay Pirates’ has been constantly noted. But man cannot live off one novelty single alone, and just because I want ‘The Safety Dance’ to be the 80s’ answer to allegory, doesn’t make that track anything more than novelty cheese (albeit spectacular novelty cheese). That’s the worry with this album: it could easily slip into the realms of novelty while still begging for recognition. For this reason, those listening to Cosmo Jarvis will probably find themselves questioning whether they enjoy the music enough to get past the often cringeworthy lyrics.
The second single, ‘Sure as Hell Not Jesus’, takes a while to get going, but the chorus is quite pleasant and it’s actually one of the better tracks on the album. The punk effort ‘My Day’ is probably what rock would sound like if Alfred the Great travelled forwards in time to 2011 and wanted to join forces with The Kooks (yes, that good). It has a fairly upbeat chorus and some catchy riffs, but they are interspersed with twee, almost medieval-sounding passages that don’t always flow but are included just for the hell of it. A highlight is the track ‘Dave’s House’ which, although comical for all the wrong reasons, is one of the catchier tunes on the album and a fun track to have playing in the background when chatting with housemates. This is often the case throughout the album: the music itself is enjoyable and provides perfect chilled out background noise. It is only when you stop and listen to the lyrics or search for something more than just whimsical gimmicks that you might be disappointed. At times it can even feel as though the artist is begging for attention, to the extent that the whole album treads that thin line between eccentricity and weird simply for the sake of being weird. Even the album title asks you to consider how delightfully mad the artist is, and oh isn’t the world bizarre? Why yes, I suppose it is; I’d never thought of that, had you? The fact that he manages to simultaneously sound like The Streets, Flight of the Conchords, Gym Class Heroes and Just Jack is surely a sign that either Cosmo missed the boat the first time round or is relying too heavily on other artists with a similar and popular sound.
So to conclude my thoughts on this album, you’re not strange, Mr. Jarvis, but luckily for you the world could well be strange enough to embrace your mish-mash of musical mania.