…In which Jarvis Cocker turns his attention from his BBC 6Music show, Sunday Service, to room service. Or, rather, getting serviced in hotel rooms. If anything sums up the world view expressed on Room 29 it's this rumination: "Is there anything sadder than a hotel room that hasn't been fucked in? I'd like to get a piece of that, but I need an introduction." Billed as "a 21st-century song cycle", the album sees Cocker team up with musical polymath Chilly Gonzales for an understated work that seeks to conjure the seedier myths surrounding the lives of those that stayed in the Chateau Marmont during Hollywood's heyday.
Situated on a hillside overlooking Sunset Boulevard, Chateau Marmont has long been a preferred hideaway for Hollywood high society. It's a hotel with a thousand tales, both sordid and scintillating, where the walls and décor breathe cinematic history. Room 29, a collaborative concept record by Jarvis Cocker and Chilly Gonzales, supposes what stories the Chateau's No.
Imagine a piano in a room in the Chateau Marmont, located at the west end of Los Angeles' famed Sunset Boulevard. What stories might that instrument have been witness to? A musician serenading a lover; the reflected visage of a Hollywood starlet doing lines of cocaine off of the piano's polished black surface; or the discarded cigarette ash of LA mobsters conducting shady deals. Room 29, a collaborative album from Jarvis Cocker & Chilly Gonzales runs with this concept, exploring the debauchery and detachment that occurs within the walls of the famous Sunset Boulevard hotel.
H earing Jarvis Cocker's lascivious Sheffield mutter can still produce a contact high, particularly in those who came of age with Pulp. Within a few seconds of the title track of this 16-episode song cycle, we find Cocker settling into LA's showbizzy Chateau Marmont and contemplating the room's piano - the glamorous assignations it has witnessed, their bittersweet flipsides. If you half-remember Pulp's This Is Hardcore, this is familiar territory for Cocker - actors doing drugs on the baby grand, shaking their money-makers, while other gilded lives come crashing down behind closed doors.
Los Angeles' Chateau Marmont exists on the precipice of magic and kitsch, a place where mythology and tragedy intertwine so neither is discernable from the other. In other words, it's an ideal tableau for Jarvis Cocker, the former Pulp frontman who has always been drawn to the intersection between high and low culture. A collaboration with Chilly Gonzalez, an electro musician with strong roots in classic pop, Room 29 is intimate cabaret -- the kind of album that could be performed at a dinner theater, where the pianist runs the length of his keyboard as the vocalist murmurs poetry.
"Do you check into a hotel? Or does the hotel condition check into you?" writes Wayne Koestenbaum in Hotel Theory, a collection positioning the hotel room as a space for possibility. Consider it a companion piece to Jarvis Cocker and Chilly Gonzales' Room 29, a meditation on the relationship between hotel and guest, comprised of piano, voice, bits of strings from the Kaiser Quartett, and sound effects. Of course, these seemingly blank slates still hold memories and emotions, and that's where this collaboration gets interesting.
J arvis Cocker bleeds Sheffield, but it's hard to imagine an artist better suited to slithering around the Chateau Marmont after Hollywood skeletons. On Room 29, a song-cycle about the fabled LA hotel, Cocker's knack for pinpointing nihilism's abiding allure finds a match in Chilly Gonzales's eerily elegant piano. While it's easy to condemn or romanticise the Chateau, the duo mostly offer a nuanced portrait of its murky morals.