Life Inside Quotation Marks: Jarvis Cocker’s “Further Complications”


I love Jarvis Cocker. Ever since I first saw him doing some limp-wristed clapping in the music video for Common People back when I was a teenager, I’ve thought he’s one of the most attractive men in the universe. NHS spectacles and all. And his music hasn’t really ever disappointed me whether in Pulp or on his own. While Cocker had come to success relatively late for rockstar timelines, his maturity has only brought well-honed depth to his music and lyrics, and he never seems to go out of fashion because he never really was in fashion (okay, maybe for a couple of Britpop years of insanity, but even then, he always appeared to be on the fringes of laddish battle between Blur and Oasis, and he was one of the only Britpop survivors who appears to regret the whole thing). He’s like a particularly fantastic thrift shop find – sometimes a little retro, sometimes a little bizarre, sometimes a little cheap. It’s been a mixed bag of reviews for “Further Complications”, his Albini-produced follow-up to 2006’s Jarvis; some have been confused by the more “rock” direction, some have found Cocker to be a bit too pervy. Oddly enough, I’ve never found Cocker very perverted despite the longtime obsession with sex and its pathetic and/or seedy derivations in his music. It’s his frank, witty take on sex and its varieties and mundanities that make him a fascinating artist and social commentator. As the cover art suggests, Cocker is often a bit bent out of shape, the legendary “misshape,” in fact, and these pipecleaner turnpikes in his view of society and in his work are a large part of his appeal. And because you’re never quite sure about what’s around the corner, Cocker cannot be taken completely seriously nor dismissed lightly. You never quite know when he’s smuggling a tongue in his cheek.

The album begins with the title track as it crashes in with dischordant thrashing before drums and bass get going. Telling the story of the further complications we experience after leaving the womb, this song is filled with Cocker’s signature wit and flair with language and metaphor. The chorus compares life to a carrier bag, which if filled with crap, will snap at the straps, and if too empty, will just blow away; for someone like me who suffers through social interactions on a daily basis and constantly wonders about her life choices and compromises, this song is reassurance in much the same way The Smiths’ Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now always was. By the end of the song, Cocker’s voice is breaking, whooping and thrashing, adding an instability to the song. Angela sounds a bit 60s garage, and uses a great deal of lyric repetition about a twenty-three-year-old woman who works for 4.50 an hour. Some phrases like “I feel the sap rising tonight” and “overzealous hand” may make people a bit uncomfortable; I personally find them quite funny and sad. Pumping with odd robotic sound effects and a surf rock feel, the following track, Pilchard blows through over a minute before Cocker comes in with reverby “ow’s,” and that’s as articulate as he gets for this largely instrumental song.

Filled to the brim with “guilt and self-loathing,” Leftovers is one of my favourites on the album. Against a slightly country-tinged feel, the great lyrics just keep coming in this song as Cocker throws out puns and intertextual references to his own past. Cocker is no longer meeting girls at St. Martin’s, instead he sings, “I met her in the Museum of Paleontology/I make no bones about it” before comparing himself to a dinosaur. He’s always had that ability to give you unexpected turns-of-phrase with a delivery full of comic timing, turning whatever came before on its head (see: “Do you wanna sleep with common people…Like me…She didn’t…Understand”). A string of such odd corners comes with: “He says he loves you like a sister/well, I guess that’s relative/He says he wants to make love to you, but instead of “to,” shouldn’t that be ‘with’?”. While this track could be taken as another creepy come-on from an older man to a younger girl, I think it’s more top-notch self-deprecation from a character who is hopeless, but craves some sort of tangible connection; a lonely man without much to offer but his grammar tips and deft wordplay. He follows this song up with I Never Said I Was Deep, a soulful ballad that makes me think of Lloyd Cole’s melodies. There are more droll phrases as he becomes an utterly unappealing male stereotype with honest admissions about stupidity that play off those men who proudly affirm stereotypes. He sings lines like “I am profoundly shallow/My lack of knowledge is vast and my horizons are narrow” and “I’m not looking for a relationship/Just a…willing receptacle.” The song’s narrator is so repulsive that he becomes an entertaining parody.

I’m not as fond of Homewrecker! as I am of the rest of the album – like Pilchard, it has a large instrumental lead-in, and its lyrics just don’t seem as substantial as Cocker is capable of. There’s a lot of saxophone and bluster, but it doesn’t seem to amount to much. Hold Still returns to a more subdued ballad format, and is actually quite touching in its metaphor and storytelling of losing hold and control of a relationship and desperately wanting to keep things as they are. Cocker’s voice quavers as he tries to keep life from spiralling away from him, making a line like “We’re cosmic dust, but you’re everything to me” seem all the sadder and more poignant. Coming in with some of that oft-cited “rock” influence, Fuckingsong has a monster riff and snarls and buzzes of feedback. The song takes on a double meaning as both a song about sex, but also as a profanity-inducing, frustratingly hollow replacement for the real thing. Caucasian Blues is a glammy romp with screaming, breathless vocals, and with its American influence, it feels a bit like Aladdin Sane if he were more self-aware and ironic. Sample lyrics include:

And so you finally took the plunge
And got into blues rock
And you like to give to charity
Because it’s easier to patronize
Than face the facts and now

I’ve heard it said
That you are hung like a white man

This self-mockery and reversal of racial stereotypes is refreshing, and it pokes further fun at being middle-aged and hopelessly “unhip.” Mellowing out again, the track, Slush, is filled with icy metaphors with the repeated chorus of “my heart melted at your touch, turned into slush.” While, at first glance, this song seems like a sweet song about being saved by the love of another, it then has lyrics that compare the lover’s influence to a blanketing snowstorm, culminating in the rather depressing line, “I barely recognize who or where I am.” And slush isn’t exactly the most appealing metaphor for love – it’s usually dirty and a messy leftover of winter. This song feels like the ultimate loss of oneself in love . There’s a strangled howl at the climax of the song, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s the sound of Cocker choking on his insincerity. Cocker seems to have always had a bit of disco on his mind (Death Goes to the Disco, Disco 2000), and in the last song of the album, You’re in My Eyes (Discosong), he reasserts himself as the sardonic disco king in this slow-burning, groovy tune. In the low, nearly spoken-word parts, he sounds like Barry White…if he were a weedy white man in elbow patches. From Sheffield. And I would definitely fall for him. Like many of the songs on this record, it’s not straightforward and its honesty can creep up on you. The opening lyrics are:

Grey floaters inside my eyes
And visible when you look into a clear blue sky
Memories of days gone by activated by a mirror ball shining bright
In a provincial disco on a Thursday night

You appeared from nowhere beside me on the floor
Identical in every detail to the way you were before
The best part of a decade since you went out of my life
The worst part of a decade, and here you are tonight
By my side

There’s reminiscence of lost youth in this song, but it is grounded in a reality of provincial discos and marred by the deterioration of aging eyes. The mind can’t be trusted and the memories are likely refracted by the disco ball glare, but that same need that makes Cocker sound pervy in other songs is present here in a less visceral, grasping sexual urgency, and is, thus, probably more palatable to people. And could be mistaken for love rather than lust.

This album somehow befits Cocker’s age; in some ways, it’s the ultimate soundtrack to a mid-life crisis. It’s about loss and self-loathing and reflection on the breaking down of a half-life. And though there is no doubt a hint of Cocker himself in these lyrics, he has always been able to adopt a variety of narrative guises, saying what so many of us are thinking and revealing things that so many of us are doing, but with an extra meaning hiding beneath an often dark, sooty patina of wit. He lives so well inside those quotation marks that we can often forget that they’re there. Jarvis Cocker can be many memorable characters at once, and no matter how socially misshapen and/or extreme they are, he is magnetic at the core. He can still be a voyeuristic boy hiding in a closet watching his friend’s sister. He can still be that curmudgeon that was beaten to death by obese children for his mobile phone. He can chase girls half his age at a dinosaur museum. He is still complicated. And I love him.

Leftovers – Jarvis Cocker

I Never Said I Was Deep – Jarvis Cocker

6 Responses to “Life Inside Quotation Marks: Jarvis Cocker’s “Further Complications””

  1. 1 jc
    June 28, 2009 at 9:20 am

    I found it to be a record that really does take a few listens to appreciate the quality….but I’m bnow convinced that in years to come it will be quoted as a classic that should have sold many more copies.

    Its certainly far better than his debut solo LP.

  2. June 30, 2009 at 7:26 am

    I have a soft spot for Jarvis Cocker too – I saw him on a songwriter programme recently and he was a lot more humble and down-to-earth than I imagined. He has written some really wonderful songs, and I’m sure he must have been a girl in his last life when I listen to the song ‘Underwear’.

  3. 3 Greg
    July 3, 2009 at 6:30 am

    This is one of the finest reviews you have ever written on this blog in my opinion. I haven’t heard the album as yet, but I do already feel as if I know it inside out. I’m really looking forward to hearing it now.


  4. 4 lee
    July 29, 2009 at 8:05 am

    Oh thanks. I’ve been looking for a detailed review of his second album. This has gotten mixed reviews, majority of them says that Albini’s style obscured Jarvis songwriting ability. Truth to tell I have no clue of who Steve Albini is and I only found out about Jarvis accidentally just last autumn. We were looking for tracks of the black Rnb/Hip-hop artist called Jarvis but we were mistakenly sent the Jarvis Project, Cocker’s first solo album, instead. Did that make me upset? Hell, no. After the initial listens and a few “wtf’s”, I surprisingly love it. Been a fan since and got most of his Pulp stuffs too.

    Going back to Further Comp, I’ve heard some of the tracks late last year when he sampled them in his gig. They were good, like what I heard, but not that memorable. I’m more entertained at his onstage banter. His live band version is remarkable but I want to hear the actual record with the Albini production in it but I’m warned that it’s retro sounding.

    Here’s the thing about reviewing Jarvis, I just realized that he set his bar so high with the brilliantly written Different Class, that everything else that he does after will fall below his creds. Even if he is mediocre, by today’s pop standards, he is still good (well not Relaxed Muscle). It’s a good thing actually, that critics and fans alike will raise their expectations, since it means that you are given respect. I just really want to ignore the critics or his fans that are yearning for the so-called Pulp sound. I discovered and loved Jarvis as a solo artist so why do these people spoil it for me that he could have done better?

  5. 5 JMC
    December 23, 2009 at 11:43 am

    Great review of a really good – if pretty bleak – album. If ‘Hardcore’ was the sound of someone losing the plot, this is music for when you feel like the story’s over but are tormented by the hopethat it might not be.

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The only certain thing that is left about me

There is no part of my body that has not been used

Pity or pain, to show displeasure's shame

Everyone I've loved or hated always seems to leave


So I turned myself to face me

But I've never caught a glimpse

Of how the others must see the faker

I'm much too fast to take that test

The Smiths Queen is Dead

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're happy

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Oh, Keats and Yeats are on your side

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're wanted

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Keats and Yeats are on your side

But you lose 'cause weird lover Wilde is on mine

The Clash London Calling

When they kick at your front door

How you gonna come?

With your hands on your head

Or on the trigger of your gun


Charles Windsor, who's at the door

At such an hour, who's at the door

In the back of an old green Cortina

You're on your way to the guillotine

Here the rabble comes

The kind you hoped were dead

They've come to chop, to chop off your head


Then you came with your breezeblocks

Smashing up my face like a bus-stop

You think you're giving

But you're taking my life away


Won't someone give me more fun?

(and the skin flies all around us)

We kiss in his room to a popular tune

Oh, real drowners


Don't walk away

In silence

See the danger

Always danger

Endless talking

Life rebuilding

Don't walk away

Walk in silence

Don't turn away in silence

Your confusion

My illusion

Worn like a mask of self-hate

Confronts and then dies

Don't walk away


You don't want to hurt me

But see how deep the bullet lies

Unaware I'm tearing you asunder

Oh there is thunder in our hearts

Is there so much hate for the ones we love

Tell me we both matter don't we

The Associates Affectionate

I don't know whether

To over or under estimate you

Whether to over or under estimate you

For when I come over

You then put me under

Personal taste is a matter of gender


I wake at dusk to go alone without a light

To the unknown

I want this night inside of me

I want to feel

I want this speeding

I want that speeding


You'll never live like common people

You'll never do what common people do

You'll never fail like common people

You'll never watch your life slide out of view

And dance and drink and screw

Because there's nothing else to do

Vanilla Swingers

All I have is words, words that don't obtain

And I feel I'm a stain on your horizon

So I stay away - it's easier that way

And there won't be no-one I need to rely on

Is it him, is it me

Or is there something only I can see

How did I get here, why do we blow around like straw dogs on the breeze

I'm a special one, what they used to say

But I've to stay on, finish levels-A

You don't need exams when you've read John Gray

The Indelicates American Demo

And nobody ever comes alive

And the journalists clamour round glamour like flies

And boys who should know better grin and get high

With fat men who once met the MC5

And no one discusses what they don't understand

And no one does anything to harm the brand

And this gift is an illusion, this isn't hard

Absolutely anyone can play the fucking guitar

JAMC Darklands

And we tried so hard

And we looked so good

And we lived our lives in black


Plucked her eyebrows on the way

Shaved her leg and then he was a she

She says, hey babe,

Take a walk on the wild side

Said, hey honey, take a walk on the wild side


Hide on the promenade

Etch a postcard:

How I dearly wish I was not here

In the seaside town...that they forgot to bomb

Come, come, come - nuclear bomb


Back when we were kids

We would always know when to stop

And now all the good kids are messing up

Nobody has gained or accomplished anything

Wire Pink Flag

Prices have risen since the government fell

Casualties increase as the enemy shell

The climate's unhealthy, flies and rats thrive

And sooner or later the end will arrive

This is your correspondent, running out of tape

Gunfire's increasing, looting, burning, rape


Well, maybe there's a god above

But all I've ever learned from love

Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you

It's not a cry that you hear at night

It's not somebody who's seen the light

It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah


And what costume shall the poor girl wear

To all tomorrow's parties

For Thursday's child is Sunday's clown

For whom none will go mourning


My body is your body

I won't tell anybody

If you want to use my body

Go for it


Oh it's opening time

Down on Fascination Street

So let's cut the conversation

And get out for a bit

Because I feel it all fading and paling

And I'm begging

To drag you down with me

Mansun Six

And you see, I kind of shivered to conformity

Did you see the way I cowered to authority

You see, my life, it's a series of compromises anyway

It's a sham, and I'm conditioned to accept it all, you see

Japan Gentlemen

Take in the country air, you'll never win

Gentlemen take polaroids

They fall in love, they fall in love


We just want to emote til we're dead

I know we suffer for fashion

Or whatever

We don't want these days to ever end

We just want to emasculate them forever

Forever, forever

Pretty sirens don't go flat

It's not supposed to happen like that

Longpigs The Sun

There's no perfume I can buy

Make me smell like myself

So I put on perfume

To make me smell like someone else

In bed

Calvin Harris I Created Disco

I got love for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

I've got hugs for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's


Does his makeup in his room

Douse himself with cheap perfume

Eyeholes in a paper bag

Greatest lay I ever had

Kind of guy who mates for life

Gotta help him find a wife

We're a couple, when our bodies double

Simple Minds Sons and Fascination

Summer rains are here

Savaged beauty life

Falling here from grace

Sister feeling call

Cruising land to land

No faith no creed no soul

Half a world away

Beauty sleeps in time

Sound and fury play

Bloc Party Silent Alarm

North to south


Running on


As if to say, as if to say

He doesn't like chocolate

He's born a liar, he'll die a liar

Some things will never be different


LCD Soundsystem

Well Daft Punk is playing at my house, my house

I've waited 7 years and 15 days

There's every kid for miles at my house, my house

And the neighbors can't...call the police

There's a fist fight brewin' at my house, my house

Because the jocks can't...get in the door

Johnny Boy

I just can't help believing

Though believing sees me cursed

Stars Set Yourself

I am trying to say

What I want to say

Without having to say "I love you"

Josef K Entomology

It took 10 years to realise why the angels start to cry

When you go home down the main

Your happy smile

Your funny name

Cocteau Twins Bluebell


Doesn't she look a million with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Yes, she's a beautiful brunette angel from heaven with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Augment a beautiful brunette

New Order Power Corruption

How does it feel

To treat me like you do

When you've laid your hands upon me

And told me who you are


You must let her go

She's not crying



Feeling like I'm waiting

Modern times



Hating to distraction

Just leave them alone


Girls in the back

Girls in the back

Puressence Don't Forget

They say come back to earth and start getting real, yeah

I say come back to earth and start getting real

I know I can't


So I walk right up to you

And you walk all over me

And I ask you what you want

And you tell me what you need


The problem of leisure

What to do for pleasure

Ideal love a new purchase

A market of the senses

Dream of the perfect life

Economic circumstances

The body is good business

Sell out, maintain the interest


Sitting in my armchair thinking again and again and again

Going round in a circle I can't get out

Then I look around thinking day and night and day

Then you look around - there must be some explanation

And the tension builds

Psychdedelic Furs

India, India

You're my love song

India, you're my love song

In the flowers

You can have me in the flowers

We will dance alone

And live our useless lives

Ladytron Light Magic

They only want you when you're seventeen

When you're twenty-one

You're no fun

They take a polaroid and let you go

Say they'll let you know


No consolation prizes

Spit out your lies and chewing gum

Cut off your hair yeah that's it!

If you look like that I swear I'm gonna love you more


All the neighbors are startin' up a fire

Burning all the old folks, the witches and the liars.

My eyes are covered by the hands of my unborn kids

But my heart keeps watchin' through the skin of my eyelids


Prince charming

Prince charming

Ridicule is nothing to be scared of

Don't you ever, don't you ever

Stop being dandy, showing me you're handsome

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