Tuesday, October 2, 2007

A Little Soul

Because it’s maybe the prettiest song on This Is Hardcore, it’s also one of the bleakest. At the time of its release, many critics theorized that “A Little Soul” addressed Jarvis’ relationship with his then-estranged father. I happen to think the song is more a fictional but cautionary tale Jarvis wrote to himself.

If anyone needs any indication of just how despondent Jarvis Cocker felt at the tail-end of his time as a bona fide celebrity, just listen. He’s all but ready to find himself in the scenario of this song, wearily lifting his head up from the bar to see, at the other end, a young, cocksure player and serial heartbreaker. “Hey man, how come you treat your woman so bad?” And he can easily imagine the horrifying realization that this cavalier, uncaring ladies’ man is his long-abandoned son. He’d try and set the boy back on the right pack… if he had any idea how to find that path himself. But he’s already resigned himself to a life of dissipated, quiet ruin and can only urge the kid to just get away from his old man.

The song is all the more heartrending thanks to the opening guitar riff, an easily detected rethink of “The Tracks of My Tears” by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. That song is one of greatest about a man hiding his emotions. “A Little Soul,” on the other hand, is about a man trying desperately to remember how to have emotions. The simple beauty of the melody and arrangement keeps the song from being an unpleasant slog through Jarvis’ sense of self-loathing. It instead becomes, in the context of the album, one final, necessary descent into the wells of despair, before finally looking for a way out.

Watch the video here.

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