A quick caveat first. I only have seven tracks of this new Jarvis Cocker album, “Further Complications”. According to the lengthy note from Jarvis which accompanies them, the other eight aren’t “in a fit state to be listened to at the present time.”
I suspect this must have changed now, since I’ve been sat on this sampler a while: it’s taken a surprising amount of time to bed in. Not sure why this is, really. In spite of not being that impressed with most of his first solo album, I always felt like Cocker would make an excellent solo artist, and naturally expected this one to be good.
And it turns out, it is – or at least the sampler is. Perhaps the frustration is that it doesn’t, on this snippet, sound like the really great solo record that I’m sure he’ll make one day. Rather, “Further Complications” feels like a tentative step towards what may be dangerously termed Jarvis Cocker’s “mature” style: a realisation that perhaps his peers aren’t other Britpop survivors/recovering casualties, but wry, super-literate men of a certain age like Nick Cave and Lou Reed.
He has, though, gone a weird way of getting there, since “Further Complications” was recorded by Steve Albini, a doubtless amused engineer of choice amongst the post-Britpop diaspora, it seems, since he’s also done the honours on the new Manic Street Preachers album, “Journal For Plague Lovers” (a record cursed, of course, by the involvement of the Manic Street Preachers). Albini is a terrific man to have at the controls, and the simple precision of his recording technique is a joy to hear (never better than on The Breeders’ “Title TK”, I’d say; there’s an undervalued record).
It is, though, an odd fit with Jarvis, whose musical settings have never appeared to be about rawness or instrumental authenticity. Here, “Angela” is a glam opener, but it’s an austere, menacing, fuzzy kind of glam, as if The Glitter Band had recorded “Angel Eyes” for the Amphetamine Reptile label.
There’s a notionally crude immediacy to a song like this, but it actually takes a while to make sense – likewise a grunting instrumental called “Pilchard”. By “I Told You Twice (Leftovers)”, we’re on more familiar territory, with a deadly opening line of, “I met her in the Museum of Paleontology and I make no bones about it.” The treatment, though, is like something off “New York”, perhaps, or maybe late ‘90s/early 21st Century Bad Seeds (the excellent “Hold Still” even more so). In his notes, Cocker suggests that he hasn’t “gone rock”, but has “discovered that, with this band, he COULD rock and so he’d be a fool not to (when the situation demanded it).”
It can be risky heading into this sort of territory when popular opinion deems you to be, one way or another, a crooner. I was listening to the reissue of Morrissey’s “Southpaw Grammar” the other day, marvelling at all the turgid rock-outs that are not materially any worse than the ones that clutter up the last three alleged return-to-forms. Then “The Teachers Are Afraid Of The Pupils” came out, that endless looming orchestral vamp, and it was blindingly obviously a setting that suited Morrissey so much better.
Cocker’s a much more flexible and intelligent performer than Morrissey, I’d say, and he can work his way around genre and sound with far greater ease; he’s probably wary of the crooning option, not least because his friend Richard Hawley has cornered that market so skilfully. But these are good songs that feel in some way transitional: a sort of dignified retreat from kitsch, a project of making reflective glam rock when you have a grey beard.
Then, at the end of the sampler, Cocker throws in a mirrored curveball. “You’re In My Eyes (Discosong)” is a measured, elegaic retake on his Pulp-era dancefloor songs: still quite organic sounding, but with a few little touches of French house and so on buried in the mix. Most interestingly, there’s a new dimension and depth to his voice, that sounds softer and fuller where once it would’ve become shrill and frantic.
Very promising, as is the info about the tracks still to come. “Homewrecker”, an “absolute racket featuring saxophone from Steve Mackay”, anyone?