Great artwork, by the way
I absolutely understand why some people would find themselves utterly turned off by Jarvis Cocker. He is deeply, deeply self-conscious in a way that has the potential to be frustrating, especially if interpreted as clever-clever yet empty irony.
I, however, am an enthusiastic admirer. One of the first five or six albums I owned was Pulp's This Is Hardcore – an album I'd still rank amongst the most sublime of my record collection. And I really don't think he's ever been fey, arrogant or poseurish in his irony – qualities to which I would object.
On the newly released solo album Further Complications, in any case, he is probably the straightest he's been. Even when he's self-consciously punning, it's rather beautifully constructed, rather dignified in its rueful self-deprecation. Here's the opening of Leftovers:
I met her in the museum of paleontologyAnd I make no bones about itI said if you wish to study dinosaurs,I know a specimen whose interest is undoubtedTrapped in a body that is failing meWell, please allow me to be succinctI wanna love you whilst we both still have flesh upon our bonesBefore we both become extinct
And, hell, Jarv delivers the lines like a pro. He's human, all too human.
Jarvis Cocker at – or near – his best
The best songs are 'Angela', which is a fucking brilliant single – definitely one of the year's best –and 'I Never Said I Was Deep', which is maturely angry, ambiguous and sad. And damn well instrumented, too. Have a listen to the whole song, why don't you? Download an mp3 of Jarvis Cocker's 'I Never Said I Was Deep'. I defy you not to get into this groove. Er, man.
Thanks to the engineering/production (whatever you want to call it) of the to-all-intents-and-purposes-deified-by-Heavy-Soil Steve Albini, this album is very different from Cocker's previous work (both in and out of Pulp). Immediate, urgent, three-dimensional. Production-wise, 'Fuckingsong' is a highlight, with its scrapes, raking-claw feedback and reversed guitar slices.
And when the momentum is up, this is terrifically compelling. Check out 'Angela' (if you'll excuse the expression), and you'll see what I mean. Like an artist working with a new medium, Cocker's songs take on a wholly new aspect under the uncompromising fingers of Albini. At times, this is Cocker at or near his best.
I do feel, though, that the album does the same thing as did Pulp's swansong We Love Life and (to a lesser degree) Cocker's debut solo record, Jarvis: it loses its momentum and focus toward the end. Goes slightly to seed. Things get a little too long, slow and delay-soaked … And (more damagingly) start to sound very very much like other Pulp/Cocker songs – exactly the trap the majority of the earlier songs had not only avoided but disarmed and converted into dootzy mantlepiece ornaments.
Aside from this sonic wavering towards its end, I like this record's colours: off-blacks – slate and charcoal – dashed through with coppery strands. The nasal resonance of the horns tessalating seamlessly with the no-edge-smoothed signature Albini sound. Cocker's vocals have always tended (in a good way) toward the oily – and sit fantastically in this context. A hugely satisfactory contrast of textures: it's like eating scallops with crunchy-fried bacon.
Awesome, in other words.
If only there wasn't that shift down in musical gears – accompanied, crucially, by a shift down in musical originality – towards the end. It not only undoes the admirable work of the earlier songs; it also prevents me fully from grasping the album as a whole. And this is the problem with which I've been grappling since I first bought it. Because, on the strength of the first two-thirds, I'd rate this album very highly (though probably still shy of This Is Hardcore). But as a whole, I can't quite say.