Wednesday 27 May 2009

Review: Further Complications by Jarvis Cocker

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 paleontology
And I make no bones about it
I said if you wish to study dinosaurs,
I know a specimen whose interest is undoubted

Trapped in a body that is failing me
Well, please allow me to be succinct
I wanna love you whilst we both still have flesh upon our bones
Before 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.

Hey, how about you buy it yourself (iTunes, Amazon) and let me know what you think, eh?


Anonymous said...

Perhaps the reason I have no problem with the latter part of the album is that I don't own any other Pulp or Jarvis Cocker records. Although I'm far more likely to investigate now.

Unknown said...

are you american?

Tom Parnell said...

Hi Adam ... Nope: English. Why do you ask?

Chris said...

For a guy who doesn't know Jarvis or Pulp that well, I have to say that this is a fun record. Nothing serious or mind-blowing. Just pure fun. I got it as a CD import (as part of the package from Rough Trade), so I paid a hefty sum but I have no expectations whatsoever. The album artwork itself, which has Jarvis posing like a bendy Tom Green doll suggests that this ain't hardcore, just Jarv having a good time, still hunting for some fresh P.O.A.s. but fortified with some Albini goodness. That is why I don't get why so many reviews are looking for substantial lyrics like political things or heavy stuffs like that. If you got tracks named fuckingsong or discosong, then don't expect a tearjearker.
As for Jarvis, he's a self-aware douche, attention whore, sleazebag like Eminem or Diddy so it's so hard to put him down and that is why I love him more. So sad that young ones only know him as Michael Jackson's unofficial back-up dancer.

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