Jarvis Cocker - Further Complications
released 18 May 2009 on Rough Trade
If you fought in the Britpop Wars of the mid-1990s, you’ll know there was much more depth than the media-constructed Blur vs. Oasis feud. Supergrass, Ash and Saint Etienne all played their part but at the cultural coalface, just behind Albarn and the brothers Gallagher was our Jarv. The thing is, Pulp were never a Britpop band, not really. They’d been a going concern since the late 1970s (originally under the name Arabacus Pulp) and were simply in the right place with the right songs at the right time.
After a promising start to his solo career with Jarvis, Cocker has roped in prolific producer Steve Albini for Further Complications. Albini’s most famous knob-twiddling took place on Nirvana’s swansong, In Utero, so it may initially seem an odd choice of partner for anyone remotely familiar with Pulp’s keyboard-heavy pop stylings. From the very beginning of Further Complications, the Albini hallmarks are most definitely in evidence. The title track is built around an alt.rock distorted riff and has an urgency unlike the laissez-faire approach that characterises much of Cocker’s previous work. Even on lines such as “I was not born in wartime/I was not born in pain or poverty,” Jarvis is imploring us to listen to his message.
However, like the chicken-egg conundrum, it’s impossible to know to what extent Albini is the primary root of this new sound. Did Albini drive Cocker down this alternative road or did Cocker have the idea in mind and decide Albini was simply the best sonic architect? The alternative rock theme continues on recent download-only single, Angela. Here, the production saves what is, in essence, a fairly basic pub-rock ditty. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about following track, Pilchard. Everyone has differing tastes when it comes to music, but it’s difficult to imagine being excited at a one-note riff and the repeating of the pathetic quasi-threat “you pilchard, you pilchard.” But hey, each to their own and all that.
We’re then pleasingly back in vintage Jarvis territory with Leftovers, which uses Mick Ronson guitars to great effect. In the 80s it was Morrissey, in the 21st Century it’s Alex Turner but from the class of the 1990s, no-one can turn a phrase like Cocker. An opening line of “I met her at the museum of palaeontology/And I make no bones about it” displays clear evidence that he’s still got it when it matters most. In Cocker’s inimitable way, he’s made something which manages to be gauche and slightly perverse, yet somehow pretty damn sexy at the same time beneath it all.
I Never Said I Was Deep is packed full of theatrical sighs and palm-to-brow emotional gestures as you’d wish but then we’re half-way through and the wheels start to come off somewhat. Homewrecker! showcases the fact that, when all is said and done, Jarvis isn’t really a singer, and ends with frenzied screaming. Yes, that’s right, screaming. The rest of Further Complications sadly fades into relative obscurity and is largely forgettable. The tracks aren’t exactly bad - in fact, the lo-fi fuzz-rock of Fuckingsong is thrilling - but they lack a certain something. Caucasian Blues is awkward and ham-fisted (“All gather round, I’ll tell you what it’s all about/You find a good woman and then you fuck her ‘til your hair falls out”)and Slush sounds like Yo La Tengo on a bad day.
Just when it seems all is lost, along comes the final track, You’re In My Eyes (Discosong). It may be going out on a limb but it needs to be said: this one song is the single best thing Jarvis Cocker has been involved with in almost fifteen years. Imagine Jarvis’ trademark purr over a backing track that sounds like The Average White Band and Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra jamming in space. How many disco songs can you think of that are over eight minutes long yet never outstay their welcome? Surely, except for Donna Summer’s I Feel Love, there can’t be any. Yet that’s what You’re In My Eyes (Discosong) is and it makes fantastic use of light and shade that’s all too rare in 21st Century music. Vocals whisper in from the left side, then the right, the band rise to a climax then bring it back to a relaxed groove and then to top it all off, they do it all over again. In short, it’s a revelation.
As it turns out, Further Complications is an apt title for an frustrating mixed-bag of an album. Initial listens may lead you to believe it’s a little non-descript, but there’s reward in perseverance. Jarvis Cocker’s diversions into scuzzy riff-based rock and glam disco are to be encouraged and although it’s unclear where he’ll go from here, we’re certainly better off for having him around.