Further Complications

Jarvis Cocker

Rough Trade, 2009


REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


Jarvis Cocker has been many things in rock since he formed Pulp as a teenager. In the ‘80s, he played the role of struggling artist as Pulp flailed in obscurity for more than a decade. In the ‘90s, Pulp exploded in the UK, thanks to Mercury Prize-nominated His ‘N’ Her and Different Class. Success led to the indulgence that was This Is Hardcore and finally, the band’s career capper We Love Life. Throughout this stretch, Cocker’s lyrics, a mix of sardonic humor and scathing class warfare obsession, made him one of the best singer-songwriters of the last two decades.

Cocker’s first solo album, Jarvis, was a great throwback to ‘60s-era solo albums. It was nostalgic without feeling like a retro retread, thanks to memorable tunes, a decent variety of music styles, and some excellent songwriting feats by fusing his wicked dry wit with some heartfelt declarations. Some experiments never took (“Fat Children” still sounds like a tacked-on rocker), but it had an undeniable flow that made listening to the album in one sitting easy. You didn’t need Jarvis to tell you to listen to the album as a whole, but he didn’t chance it, as he included instructions on listening to the album in the CD.

No such instructions are given for my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Further Complications, Cocker’s latest solo album. Unfortunately, instructions would have helped. For this disc, Cocker recruited Steve Albini, the minimalist, fuzz-noise enthusiast who produced some of the best works from PJ Harvey, Nirvana, and the Pixies. Cocker’s pick of Albini was interesting, as Cocker’s lyrics are usually far less abstract than any of the bands Albini has worked with – and far more personal and immediate.

The choice worked. Further Complications has a primal sound that matches the eleven libido-driven tracks. The guitar riff on “Leftovers” is the type of riff that lodges inside your brain and makes it nearly impossible to forget hours after you’ve listened to it. Even some of the more straightforward tracks like “Angela” have a solid foundation of garage rock rhythm that make them memorable, even though the subject matter (a woman who’s allure renders a guy powerless) has been done to death.

If someone were to have said Further Complications was a disappointment, I would have blamed recruiting Albini for his being too incompatible for Cocker’s style. But actually, the fatal flaw of this release comes from Cocker himself. While it may be unfair to judge singer-songwriters solely on their lyrics, you expect good lyrics when you listen to a Bob Dylan or a Wilco album. And when those lyrics aren’t there, the rest of the album falls apart. Ditto for Cocker.

The problem is a double dose of bad puns and lame sexual innuendo. Any fan of Pulp knows that Cocker can wallow in self-pity with the best of them, so in the song “I Never Said I Was Deep,” it’s disappointing when he tries to play the ironic hipster card with a finishing line “But I am profoundly shallow.” The same can be said for “Leftovers” with a line like “He says he loves you like a sister / Well, I guess that’s relative.”

The second offense comes from some horrible sexual puns for most of the album. “Fuckingsong”’s title was probably inserted for shock value, but it pales in comparison to Cocker’s last shocking song “Running The World,” not because of the vulgarity, but because of the open and honest bitterness that the latter song so expertly conveyed. “Let this penetrate your consciousness,” Cocker sings in “Fuckingsong.” I’ve heard more subtle entendres in the Austin Powers movies.

Fans of Jarvis Cocker know he has some sexual hangups and definitely has a perverted side. But up until now, he’s been able to convey these feelings into something audiences can relate to. With Further Complications, Jarvis seems intent only on pleasing himself. Jarvis Cocker has been many things. But sadly, this is the first time that he’s been boring.

Rating: C

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


© 2009 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Rough Trade, and is used for informational purposes only.