Who is this befuzzed string bean flopped unceremoniously on the cover of this album? Why, it’s Jarvis Cocker, further complicating an already long and respectable resumé by going in for a spot of aggressive rock.
The buzzy guitars prevalent on the follow-up to 2006’s Jarvis don’t, however, signal a dumping of the proverbial baby with the bathwater. After all, who else would open a track like Leftovers, a deliciously witty proclamation of desire, with “I met her in the museum of paleontology… and I make no bones about it”?
Lyrically, Further Complications is classic Cocker, housing prose that is as clever, self-deprecating and erotic as ever. Note the double (well, triple, if you include his humorous desire to use the phrase as his epitaph) entendre inherent in the title of I Never Said I Was Deep. Presumably hypothetical (given that Cocker is quite the father, opting to stay in France with his son in spite of his recent separation from his wife), he provides a first-person account of a profoundly, yet admittedly, one-dimensional deviant who, blunt as a spoon, notes that he’s “not looking for a relationship, just a willing receptacle”. Filth!
Given that Pulp first shimmied a whopping three decades ago, Cocker, now aged 45, is these days well within his rights to pen ‘senior moment’ complaints in his self-loathing repertoire. As a self-described dinosaur wishing to fornicate before he becomes extinct, he cunningly compares himself to an ancient tree in Angela. Although he feels “the sap rising,” the “overzealous hand” of the title character apparently underestimates the fragility of “the dry stick at the end of the branch.” Filth, filth and thrice filth.
As for that altered sound, the involvement of grunge and alt-rock producer Steve Albini is likely the reason why musically Further Complications, while adding complexity to the Cocker catalogue, is for the most part straightforward indie rock. Synth-driven bombast permeated the anthems of Different Class, moments of heaviness punctuated the wonderfully dark follow-up This Is Hardcore and there was sing-song raucousness in the form of Don’t Let Him Waste Your Time and Fat Children on his excellent solo debut. But never has the rock angst been this, well, uncomplicated.
Right off the bat, the fantastic, magnetic title track, complete with guitarists Tim McCall and Martin Craft repeatedly hurling four piercing darts and ultimately concluding with a powerful breakdown from cut to common time, sets the stage. Distortion is established as the staple, but isn’t allowed to overwhelm the content. Instead, Albini keeps things tidy, ensuring that the contributions of all parties (including Russ Orton’s effective drumming, helped by smatterings of hand claps) are tight.
Following suit in terms of infectiousness are the rowdy Homewrecker!, on which bassist Steve Mackey (who is credited with having suggested that Cocker work with Albini) does some commendable double-duty as saxophonist; the rip-roaring Fuckingsong, which seems to build forcefully upon the groove of Cake‘s Short Skirt, Long Jacket; and the boisterous Pilchard, on which Cocker allows his backing band to do the talking.
Heaviness is offset a bit with a few exceptional entries that hark back to the days of his first solo album. Notes lazily slide towards their destination on Hold Still, with a pace more closely resembling that of the Jarvis album. Meanwhile Slush reprises the shimmering, Byrds-esque guitars first proffered in Heavy Weather.
Cocker shines in this environment and, no matter the pace (which is usually quick), pulls out all of the vocal stops in range and expression. In addition to his usual come hither, capable-of-seducing-a-dead-horse tone, he lends a quirky, Rocky Horror Tim Curry strut to the phenomenal showstopper Leftovers, and conversely pushes his trademark baritone up to a Johnny Rotten screech on Caucasian Blues.
The complaints are minor, but there are some. At times, the new direction proves a bit empty; lead single Angela lacks meat and only sticks because it is overly simple. And album closer duties might better have been left to Slush, instead of the monotonous You’re In My Eyes (Discosong), a ’70s-era dance number that seems oddly out of place and better suited for the b-sides bin.
Minor missteps aside, Further Complications is a bold, progressive step forward in the so far, so very good solo career of Jarvis Cocker. It’s encouraging to see that this sometime Britpop hero, now a self-described geriatric, continues to pull water from an ever-deepening well. There is no need to implore the listeners to follow him, as he does in the album opener. Cocker’s material has led, and continues to lead, the way.