Hard Knocks

[429 Records]

Joe Cocker’s latest marks a 180-degree turn from his rough-and-ready previous record, 2007’s Hymn for My Soul. Produced by Matt Serletic, best known for his work with Matchbox Twenty, Hard Knocks is spit-shined and glossy to a fault. Comprised mostly of pop-flavored R&B, the album emits an ’80s vibe, and often brings to mind Robert Palmer’s broad-strokes discs of that era. Typical is “Stay the Same,” a fist-in-the-air anthem propelled by thunderous percussion and skittering electro-groove embellishments, and “Get On,” a horn-driven slice of hard funk that percolates in near-disco fashion. Ballads include “Unforgiven” and “So,” both of which groan beneath the weight of Serletic’s lush orchestration and overwrought arrangements. The album has fine moments—a soulful cover of the Dixie Chicks’ “I Hope” unfolds with Al Green-like casual splendor—and Cocker’s voice remains as formidable as ever. If anything, Hard Knocks demonstrates why Cocker, at 66, hardly needs an elaborate musical framework in which to shine. –Russell Hall

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