Imagine a piano in a room in the Chateau Marmont, located at the west end of Los Angeles’ famed Sunset Boulevard. What stories might that instrument have been witness to? A musician serenading a lover; the reflected visage of a Hollywood starlet doing lines of cocaine off of the piano’s polished black surface; or the discarded cigarette ash of LA mobsters conducting shady deals. Room 29, a collaborative album from Jarvis Cocker & Chilly Gonzales runs with this concept, exploring the debauchery and detachment that occurs within the walls of the famous Sunset Boulevard hotel.

In an attempt to stay true to the concept of a piano telling tales, Room 29 was recorded live with Cocker and Gonzales predominantly performing together without accompaniment. Whilst some tracks do feature additional vocals (such as soprano singer Maud Techa and film historian David Thomson) and instrumentation, this is a rarity, with the focus instead being on the interplay between Cocker’s vocals and Gonzales’ piano. The result is a melancholic, mournful rumination on fading Hollywood glamour, of hangovers filled with regret, broken glass and peeling wallpaper.

Cocker’s vocals alternate between sung and spoken, with a theatricality that recalls Leonard Cohen or early Scott Walker. When Cocker speaks, it is often in the same hushed whisper that greets listeners of Wireless Nights or his BBC 6 Music radio show. It helps to exemplify the storytelling of the album’s song cycle, narrating the movements of characters - real and imagined - that pass through Room 29 and directing the audience between vignettes.

Room 29 works best taken as a complete piece. Many of the 16 tracks are short, with interludes and reprises guiding us around the room and through time and space. The tone of the album swings from hotel lobby melodies to baroque pop as we follow this journey. ‘Marmont Overture’ sounds like the opening theme to a Golden Age Hollywood mystery, whilst ‘Tearjerker’ seems to recall the kitchen sink loneliness of Cocker’s self-titled solo record. Later on the record we find the violent musical-inspired ‘Belle Boy’ and the Cohen-esque epic of ‘Trick Of The Light’, which features a grand string finale courtesy of FAME’s Macedonian String Orchestra.

If there’s a complaint to be had with Room 29 it’s that for all the decadence, the end result can often feel a little clean cut. Cocker’s lyrics still have the same voyeuristic focus that characterised Pulp’s best songs, and his vocal delivery suggests someone who's been there and experienced the decadence first hand. Gonzales’ piano meanwhile, whilst regretful and evocative of the scores of Hollywood’s yesteryear, can often feel like it’s just background noise, a pretty soundscape for Cocker’s sordid stories. When it works however, such as in ‘Tearjerker’, ‘Bombshell’ or ‘Trick Of The Light’, the result is a thrilling trip into a time and a place where nothing is really quite as it seems and the glamorous mask is slipping away.