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.