Relaxed Muscle affect to be Darren Spooner and Jason Buckle’s electro-rock band. They are, we hear, from Doncaster and they hate Sheffield. When talking between songs, Spooner sounds like one of Marc ‘Lard’ Riley’s gruff-voiced characters on the Mark Radcliffe show: using special effects to deepen the voice in a vaguely comic fashion (“I went to a party in a chip shop recently, I got completely battered.”). Wearing a towelling headband, ghastly make-up and skeleton pyjamas, you feel Spooner is putting everything into extrapolating his persona. The reason for this is made clear when he sings for Darren Spooner sounds uncannily like Jarvis Cocker, the middle-aged singer with Pulp, vocal limitations and all.
Tonight was the first time I had listened to Relaxed Muscle, although they have released two E.P.s and an album on Rough Trade; of course, like everyone else at Trash, I knew that it was a Jarvis Cocker side-project. Cocker is no stranger to the side-project, he has appeared as a guest vocalist on Barry Adamson’s Oedipus Schmoedipus and written lyrics for Sheffield band All Seeing I. The Adamson track, ‘Set the controls for the heart of the pelvis’, like Pulp’s album, This is Hardcore, unearths Cocker’s visceral desires. Because Relaxed Muscle have songs named things like ‘Sexualised’ you would think to look in this direction for similarities, but it is All Seeing I who are the most appropriate comparison.
As with All Seeing I, it all feels slightly undercooked, with good ideas stretched too thin, as if they didn’t want to waste too many. There is the same emphasis on presentation. The same glint of irony shines, which is not to say that the project is jokey. This was immediately obvious by the way they connected with the audience. The pretty young things at Trash danced along to Relaxed Muscle’s rudimentary libidinous sounds without even the smallest smirks of ironic self-consciousness.
Relaxed Muscle are perhaps best seen as a purgation, a bloodletting, of all the false-consciousness that had accreted around Pulp. They are a reaction against Pulp with the added bonus of making fairly interesting music. Lyrically they are repetitive and dull, relying too much on dance music conventions to make an impact. Whether this is because Cocker has little more to say – there is nothing narrative in the style of Acrylic Afternoons or Disco 2000 – is uncertain. I just hope that this isn’t his long-promised swansong. He deserves much better.