Cocker’s an oddly innocuous voice on an album too smooth to really impress.
Sid Smith 2013
Fire It Up finds Joe Cocker continuing the commercially rewarding partnership he struck up with producer Matt Serletic on 2010’s Hard Knocks. And as with its predecessor, Serletic’s highly selective production ensures everything is exactly where you’d expect it to be.
The redemptive swell of Hammond organ, a sweet soothing trill from backing vocalists, snap-crack snare drums, rootsy guitar breaks and, on occasion, jabs of well-drilled brass are all present and correct.
In opting for such a clean and tidy approach, and doing away with any potentially unsightly loose ends, Serletic’s formulaic plan ensures there’s nothing in the way of surprises, fireworks or serendipity – the very elements which were such a distinctive hallmark of Cocker’s earliest successes.
Not being a renowned songwriter himself, Cocker is largely defined by the songs he sings, and as such is necessarily judged by company he keeps in the present rather than the laurels of the past.
Fire It Up is uncontentious stuff whose anodyne drift is exemplified in the by-the-numbers air-punch of Eye on the Prize. It’s not so much a song as a catchy chorus waiting for the movie sync rights to be optioned.
Perhaps the best of the 11 slender songs that comprise Fire It Up is I Come in Peace, blessed as it is with a driving bluesy bounce and useful groove, atop which Cocker deploys his strangulated growl with something approaching passion.
Yet for much of the record, he seems content to be merely skim over exquisitely manicured settings without ever digging in to find anything that feels like home.
Whilst this is undoubtedly an accessible set, the price for Cocker sounding so innocuous is to end up being something of a tourist on his own record.