Friday, June 12, 2009

Jarvis Cocker -- Further Complications

Jarvis Cocker -- Further Complications (Rough Trade)

If Bryan Ferry was the ultimate lounge lizard, Jarvis Cocker is becoming his sleazy alter ego, just a lizard coming onto 20-something year old girls. Call him Buddy Lust.

Don’t believe me? Check out the opening lines of “Leftovers”: “I met her in the Museum of Paleontology/and I make no bones about it/I said, “If you wish to study dinosaurs/I know a specimen whose interest is undoubted.” Musically, “Leftovers” is a bluesy take on early-‘60s pop, allowing Cocker to persistently try to bed the young lady he is singing to, whether he’s putting down her boyfriend (“He says he wants to make love to you/But instead of ‘to’ shouldn’t that be ‘with’") or being brutally honest (“This is no ‘mouth-watering proposition’/make no mistake: you’re in big trouble little lady.”). The romantic spell of the music seems like wishful thinking as it doesn’t seem that Jarvis is going to get the girl.

He’s more aggressive on the buzzing rocker “Angela”. Cocker is all unbridled lust waxing ecstatically over a modified glam rock stomp: “She is mobile poetry/and she’s nearly 23.” This is one song where the stamp of Steve Albini (who, as always, recorded -- not produced -- this plate) is apparent, as this has a sleazy live rock feel through and through.

Cocker was wise to tab Albini to work on this record with him, as the performances are really crisp and immediate and the record is not overly slick. Musically, this album covers the same territory that Cocker has been mining for years, especially since the final Pulp album, We Love Life. It's a mix of dramatic R & B fueled balladry with some forays into actual rock music. The biggest departures, other than “Angela”, come on “Homewreckers”, which sounds a lot like the old Batman TV show theme and “Fuckingsong”, which is a brute rocker that could have come off an early PJ Harvey record.

The lyrical conceit of “Fuckingsong” is fairly clever too. Cocker wants to seduce everyone and this song is the vehicle. He can touch women with the song, and there’s a big advantage to this method: “Always eager, always ready, always in tune & always primed/& I’m always there for you -- I’m always on time/unlike in real life.” But in the end this substitute isn’t quite what he would like it to be.

Cocker is really on his game, as the lyrics are witty, his performances are consistently engaging and his core band is up to the task of performing what is sometimes fairly layered music in what is essentially a live setting. Whether it’s the soft-disco on the epic length finale “You’re in My Eyes (Discosong)” or the atmospheric and romantic “Slush” (“My heart melted at your touch/turned into slush”) or the show stopping “I Never Said I Was Deep” (where Cocker proclaims “I am profoundly shallow”), Cocker is ably supported.

I think that Cocker’s days riding the UK charts are well past him, but he is still making intelligent pop records. I already made a Bryan Ferry comparison, which is somewhat on target, and he mixes that suave approach with the ability to play characters and skewer pomposity on par with Randy Newman. I think that’s a great combo. But will the little girls understand?

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