Notre Dame on fire ...
Kanye West’s film Jesus Is King, which documents one of West’s gospel-extravaganza “Sunday Services,” garnered more than $1 million during its weeklong run in IMAX theaters.
The good news for those unable to score a ticket is that there’s another musical Sunday Services project worth investigating.
Music from Jarvis Cocker’s Sunday Service (Ace) is an eclectic compilation of 23 tracks featured by the erstwhile Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker on the Sunday-afternoon BBC Radio 6 Music show that he hosted from 2010 to 2017. And although the album is greater than the sum of its parts, the taxonomy of those parts reveals the workings of a most interesting, and refreshingly open, mind.
There are offbeat covers (the Katzenjammers reimagining Gary Numan’s “Cars” as a lo-fi steel-drums exercise, the King’s Singers reimagining Prelude’s version of Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush”) and not-so-offbeat covers (Nina Simone’s reimagining Randy Newman’s “Baltimore” as reggae, Headless Heroes reimagining Daniel Johnston’s “True Love Will Find You in the End” as an end-credits theme for an imaginary art-house chick flick, the Camarata Contemporary Chamber Group playing Satie’s “Gymnopédia No. 3” straight).
There are quizzical spoken bits (Cocker and David Cunningham’s 32-question survey “The Interrogative Mood,” Jake Thackray’s disquisition on sheep-counting arcana in “Old Molly Metcalf”), not-so-quizzical spoken bits (the atheist Christopher Hitchens sharing his “Thoughts on Religion”—and music and love—as the Phoenix Foundation plays the progressive-folky “Corale”), and laugh-out-loud comedy (Miranda July shouting postmodern romantic clichés throughout all 61 seconds of “Rock Intro” as a horde quite possibly sampled from Kiss’ Alive II roars approval).
There are even surprisingly deep cuts from relatively shallow artists (Art Garfunkel’s “Waters of March,” Bob Welch’s “Don’t Wait Too Long”). Together, they almost make up for the inclusion of “Crazy in Love” by the insufferable Antony & the Johnsons.
Of course, no album with “Sunday Service” in its title would feel complete without gospel songs. And in “Won’t That Be a Happy Time” by Joseph and Louise Spence and “Peter and John” by Andrew Wartts & the Gospel Storytellers, Cocker has found an ideal way (whether as a religiously unaffiliated “None” he meant to or not) to remind listeners of the holiness of the Sabbath.
He excavated “Peter and John” from Side 2 of Andrew Wartts & the Gospel Storytellers’ 1982 underground gospel classic, There Is a God Somewhere (vinyl copies of which, incidentally, are currently fetching $200-$400 among collectors). Compared with the sleuthing required to locate that nugget, finding “Won’t That Be a Happy Time” on Nonesuch’s seminal 1966 Joseph Spence showcase, The Real Bahamas: In Music and Song (aka The Real Bahamas Vol. 1), must’ve been a breeze.
The Spences’ song, on which Louise sings lead while Joseph contributes Bahamian Blind Willie Johnson backup vocals and joyful acoustic fingerpicking, celebrates heaven. The Wartts track, which unfolds amid experimentally moody funk, transforms the details of Acts 3 into a powerful sermonette.
Between the two, a voice (Cocker’s?) says, “Think about it.” Kanye West—and anyone else for whom Jesus is King—will gladly comply.