Posts from 18th November 1999

18
Nov 99

24a. BARRY ADAMSON – “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Pelvis”

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Tom Ewing’s Top 100 Singles Of The 90s

“…Haven’t you heard? My name rhymes with Elvis.” So this Cocker-worded romp wins its place for the opening lines alone. What about the rest – well, where to begin? Barry Adamson made his name creating soundtracks for imaginary films (that most 90s of conceits, somehow). These records always sounded precious little like actual soundtracks, and they didn’t even sound ‘cinematic’ in the traditional pop sense of having too many strings on. But the film thing provided Adamson with the conceptual glue to justify making odd, destructured albums with the feel of a lot of studio-scraps and cast-away hooks gummed together, in ways that might be appealing and interesting but weren’t often memorable. But on “Set The Controls…”, the glue isn’t in the concept, it’s in Jarvis Cocker’s voice, and it proves a much better adhesive: the crazily disparate elements Adamson likes to load his tottering songs with stick together here like, well, like stained sheets.

Yes, damn it, “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Pelvis” is a song about wanking. This being a Barry Adamson number, it’s a song about wanking set to a magnificently rousing beat, peppered with cod-Arabesque string swings and topped off with a gospel choir singing “Save me from my own hand!” And as you might also expect, Jarvis Cocker is quick to grab his opportunity, and comes out with a career-defining vocal performance. This is Jarvis in tic heaven, each line absolutely jumping with sighs, grunts, sleazy purrs and pathetic gasps. He’s not only the decade’s greatest lyricist, he’s one of its most brilliant and theatrical vocalists too, and his guest-spot here is all the proof you need of that. From absurdist seducer to hairy-palmed creep, “Set The Controls…” finds Cocker running through every facet of the vaudeville-porno persona which made him famous, with appropriately frantic backup from Adamson. And the delirious way Jarvis squeals “You make us so hot, so hot we’re gonna BURST” might well be the best vocal moment in his entire career.

(So why 24a? Well, perhaps to give other records a chance, Adamson decided to put this one out on promo only, a fact which escaped me since I was working in a record shop chain at the time and promos were our meat and drink. So consider it the one that got away, wa-hey. You can find it on his Oedipus Schmoedipus album, thanks to Lulu for taping it for me.)