Rough Trade, 2009
It’s been thirty-one years since Jarvis Cocker first took off his school jacket, slung a guitar over his lithe frame and embarked upon a musical career by fronting Sheffield’s Arabicus Pulp. The first Pulp album, 1983’s It, was an awkward mix of folk and confessional ballads, while the following ten years saw meagre fortunes and mixed musical blessings for the man. It wasn’t until the triptych of albums that sound tracked the rise and fall of Britpop – the sordid, glammed up His ‘n’ Hers, anthem enriched Different Class, and paranoid comedown of This Is Hardcore – that saw Cocker reap the rewards of his hard work and undeniable talent.
It was therefore disheartening that his career declined as it did; a reverse mirroring of its sluggish ascent. On paper the pairing of Scott Walker and Pulp seemed genius, but the album that resulted, the limp, unfocussed We Love Life led Cocker effectively to disband his then twenty-five year project. Marriage, a re-location to Paris and fatherhood saw the unlikely sex symbol do the unthinkable and settle down. A return under his own name in 2006 with Jarvis and particular the cheeky “Running the World” was greeted with initial enthusiasm, but an album full of so-so tunes and topics ranging from the banal (being happily in love) to the bizarre (mugged by overweight children) had a general air of emasculation. In short, a happy Jarvis was a boring Jarvis.
The breakdown of that marriage, although no doubt personally traumatic, has resulted in “Further Complications.” being far from dull. Unlike the Scott Walker misstep the teaming up with producer/engineer Steve Albini isn’t an obvious choice but the lateral thinking has paid off. The opening bluesy riff that starts proceedings on the title track and Jarvis’ sing-shout vocals has Albini’s stamp all over it. Likewise “Angela”, about Cocker’s thwarted lust for a younger woman, is a rough hewn Stooges meets Kinks gem .
Although ballads such as “Leftovers”, which chronicles a middle aged man’s last ditch seduction gambit, and “I Never Said I Was Deep”, the lyrics of which all men should be made to recite upon first meeting any potential mate, are more Pulp than Pixies. Eminently quotable they contain puns and non-sequiturs only Jarvis could pull off (e.g. “I met her in the museum of Palaeontology/And I make no bones about it” and “If every relationship is a two way street/I have been screwing in the back whilst you drive”). The latter displays a soul edge, evidenced in several tracks, which could see Cocker become the indie Barry White.
“Homewrecker”, a lesson in unfaithfulness and generally ability to screw things up, uses the Stax horns in a punk setting (is it just me or does it sound like the Batman TV show theme?). “Hold Still” is the closest “Further Complications.” gets to a straight-ahead love song, although with the chorus’ “On your knees and behold the might of the master/Eyes explode at the very sight of the master.” it’s not exactly conventional. “Slush” is an epic in the vein of We Love Life’s “Sunrise” and “You’re In My Eyes (Discosong)” returns to the spoken word verses that defined much of Pulp’s work although the disco-soul is some way from the Britpop that defined Different Class.
Jarvis Cocker is a wonderfully flawed human being and gifted songwriter, that’s no revelation. But in confronting his mortality, human frailty and wanton lust he has managed to stay relevant and interesting enough to stop us from listening to Pulp re-issues… for a moment anyway. Welcome back Jarv.