Group/Artist: Jarvis Cocker
Album: Further Complications
Review: There was a time when it seemed, to me anyway, that Britpop just might save the world. Well if not the world then it could give saving rock and roll a shot. Kurt Cobain was gone, Pearl Jam were turning into hermits, Sloan had broken up and the sounds coming from Seattle Washington and Halifax Nova Scotia had seemed to have run their course. Only the Smashing Pumpkins really remained and nobody was quite sure whether Billy Corgan's crazy talk of a thematic rock-opera double album that eventually became Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness would be anything other than the madness it seemed to be.
Enter the Beatles-esque bluster of Oasis who first managed to break through in North America. Radiohead followed, but there was a whole other wave of artists that made a break to cross the Atlantic but were shut out. They made an impact on MuchMusic, the Canadian version of MTV, where I delighted in videos from acts like Mensware, Supergrass and Elastica.
It's possible you missed out on Pulp. Fronted by the bespeckled Jarvis Cocker Pulp combined biting social commentary, dirty songs about sex and drugs along side catchy hooks and pop choruses that were just never quite mainstream enough to be the sort of thing that got played at my high school dances. Pulp had been around in the United Kingdom forever, formed originally in 1978, but it was not until 1995 with Different Class that they got attention on either side of the Atlantic. The best of Pulp's albums was probably the much darker This is Harcore, though Different Class is by far the one that lives in my iPhone the most.
Non-Pulp fans will most likely only know Jarvis Cocker from the media coverage of his mooning of the audiance during Michael Jackson's overblown performance of "Eathsong" at the 1996 BRIT Awards. And while I have to assume that Cocker has a nice enough ass, that might not be enough information on whether or not you'd really like his solo album.
One of the reasons that Pulp never quite broke big in North America was that the band, and the album Different Class, was largely obsessed with the notions of class. While class may remain a social issue in Britain it never had much traction over where where there are few to no hereditary roles that we are expected to fill. On his solo album Further Complications Cocker largely abandons the subject of class, and instead focuses with an laser like intensity on Pulp's other great subject, sex. Pulp's lyrics had always had a refreshingly subtle vulgarity to them, never quite comfortable with the big four letter words but clearly talking about the same things if with a British sense of discretion.
Here there's little to no discretion. If you're not quite sure what a song titled "F**ckingsong" is about then Cocker makes it quite clear as he sings, "And every time you play it I will perform the best I can / Press repeat and there I am, and there I am, always glad to be your man / And this way, oh well there won't be any mess / As I assure you that there would be in the flesh."
What balanced out Pulp's obsession with sex was the ever present rage of being looked down upon for being working class. "Common People" wasn't just about having sex with a rich girl, it was about having sex with a rich girl and then annoyed by her because she's so clueless about how life really is. Here there's none of that, there's just sex, or the lack of sex and a need for sex, on every track.
Working with producer Steve Albini, who when he's not producing bands like Nirvana, the Pixies, Low, Cheap Trick and PJ Harvey fronts the band Shellac, Cocker finds a much harder rock sound than the dance floor tracks of Pulp's most popular tracks. The result is a kind of continually intense rock sound that never quite fits with Cocker's clever word play and since the word play is not quite as clever as it has been in the past, new comers to Cocker might wonder what the fuss about Pulp was all about. Those of us who have been hoping for a new Pulp album will probably feel let down by Further Complications. It's not Pulp, and yet it's not entirely new enough to ever shake off the memories of Pulp.