I have this mental image of Jarvis Cocker sitting outside a Parisian coffee bar watching the world scratching its collective head over his second solo album Further Complications.
The truth is that I admire his contribution to music and there is a lot I admire about his artistic honesty as well. It is also true that I wanted to like this album as soon as I pressed the play button. However, I have to say that the first play left me more than a bit confused. Sure there were some great lines leaping out at me, on the title track and “Leftovers” in particular, but something was confusing me.
In the end I wondered whether I would give this album two, three, or four more plays if it was by anyone other than Jarvis Cocker? I guess my already eager anticipation was distorted by the fact that it was produced by Steve Albini. This is the guy who has worked with The Pixies, Nirvana, and The Manic Street Preachers, among loads of others. Surely, his analogue inspired touch combined with the caustic wit of Mr. Pulp himself would ring my bell straight from the off. Wouldn't it?
Then suddenly several plays down the line it began to click and very slowly those qualities started to emerge like a view through a haze. Why I hadn’t seen it before is probably more evidence of the distorting effect of anticipation.
Up until that point I had even been tempted to commit the reviewers cardinal sin of having a sneaky look to see what everyone else was thinking. I was that bemused. I guess it was the point that the image of Jarvis sitting, drinking coffee, and stroking his beard in amused contemplation came into my mind.
Inevitably his work with Pulp will always be something of a benchmark for anything he will ever do. Rightly so, he was their main creative source for nearly a quarter of a century. Arguably Pulp reached something of a commercial peak with the album Different Class.
They released singles such as “Common People” and the controversial “Sorted For E’s And Wizz”, which despite being widely banned reached number 2 in the UK charts. It is a disturbing twist of fate that I am writing this review on the day after Michael Jackson died. Who can forget the moment when Jarvis Cocker invaded Jackson’s stage during the Brit Awards in the mid-nineties?
Post Pulp he moved to Paris and followed his various passions such as ‘outsider’ art, Scott Walker, Leonard Cohen, and Paris legend Serge Gainsbourg. He also wrote occasional songs for the likes of fellow Parisians Marianne Faithfull and Charlotte Gainsbourg.
In 2006 his debut solo album Jarvis appeared and he also began to give a series of lectures called ‘Saying The Unsayable’ about lyric writing. Somehow he found time to write new material for Further Complications and go to Chicago to record it. All of this hopefully justifies my, perhaps inflated, anticipation on playing this new release for the first time.
Jarvis Cocker, just like his lectures seem to confirm, has always had something to say. When he returned to song-writing in time for the G8 Summit his song “****s Are Still Running The World” became a download giant.
Further Complications opens promisingly with the title track. The very first line has Jarvis reflecting, ‘in the beginning there was nothing and to be honest that suited me just fine.’ It’s rockier and somewhat harsher than Jarvis, and is awash with Albini sound styling. It does, however, still possess those characteristic lyrical couplings we grew to expect in the past.
“Leftovers” opens brilliantly with, ‘I met her in a museum of paleontology and I’ll make no bones about it, I said if you wish to study dinosaurs, I know a specimen who’s interest is undoubted’. When he pleads, ‘help yourself to leftovers’, he speaks up for every middle aged guy who has ever lusted after a far younger female.
This is more like it, and we are suddenly on something of a roll. “I Never Said I Was Deep” further explores the same area. It’s a theme that crops up time and again on tracks such as this, “Angela”, “Leftovers”, You’re In My Eyes”, “F**kingsong”, and “Slush”. The line, ‘I’m not looking for a relationship, just a willing receptacle’ will no doubt provoke an interesting response, depending on where you’re coming from, so to speak.
Then again, of course, it’s a subject that crops up every eight seconds or so in any healthy guys mind. It’s Jarvis saying the unsayable with a middle aged anxiety ridden twist. Yep, I can identify with this album after all.
“Homewrecker!” positively drives its compulsive path towards a gorgeous love song that is “Hold Still”. “F**kingsong” sees him realizing that he is destined never to touch the object of his lust. He decides to get into her mind instead with a song, ‘it’s the best that I can do, it’s the closest I can get, so let it penetrate your consciousness’.
“Slush” is a real gem displaying a little nod towards Scott Walker along its path. The near nine minute “You’re In My Eyes (Discosong)” brings the album to a close with Jarvis sadly observing, ‘I don’t want this song to ever end because I know if it does you would disappear again’.
There lies the reason why I was just not ready to really hear this album first time round. It’s the honest self analysis, and sometimes ruthless self deprecation that lies deeply within many of the lyrics that makes it an uncomfortable listening experience for men of a similar age. He doesn’t just touch a raw nerve in places he positively drills into it.
My mental block had also, in part, been caused by the contrasting styles that lay within the album. Let’s face it, it would be way too heavy without a little, shall we say, relief.
Even though the most relevant lyricist of the Britpop era is brave enough to say it, it begs the question, am I brave enough to face up to it. Or is a song, as he says earlier in the album, just a “F**kingsong”? As I struggle to work it out Jarvis sits drinking his coffee and stroking his beard.
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