Six is a harsh mark for Jarvis. It is, after all, Jarvis we're talking about, and to rank him alongside the middling releases of short-lived indie bands seems something of an insult. It's also an album I personally enjoy more than your average six, but I've got to recognise that that's because it's a Jarvis Cocker record and, as such, a further reflection upon the man who I idolised through my early teens more than any other, as many of us did.
But something has gone slightly awry between now and then. That forcefulness, that lyrical zing and that sense of one man representing us few sexually and societally repressed reasonables, among the rutting throng of idiots, are all sadly lacking from this new release. It's an unfamiliar Jarvis who takes to the stage, one who, surprisingly, almost unthinkably, leaves you feeling a bit sorry for him. He was always the sexiest geek on the street. Now he's your embarrassing dad who has recently rediscovered his vinyl collection in the loft and is listening to The Stones, The Stooges and Roxy Music over and over while mum does the washing up and he fantasizes about the girlfriend's of his youth.
This effect is, in part, down to the influence of Nirvana/Pixies producer Steve Albini who has facilitated Jarvis in his decision to rock. The album is full of long instrumentals and driving rock riffs and wig outs, all performed proficiently, but a world away from the musical accompaniments that were, previously, just a pop back-drop to incredible lyrics. The rhythm section is high in the mix with the vocals sometimes lost beneath.
That cutting tongue, when it does surface, has little to say to incite the youth any more. Jarvis' main concern now is still sex, but it's his mid-life lack of any satisfying sexual release that's causing him unction. "I feel the sap rising tonight" he says to a 22-year-old bright young thing on 'Angela'. "A dry stick at the end of a branch". Oh Jarvis please. 'Fuckingsong' is intended to be, and to an extent succeeds in being a funny pastiche of cock rock posturing. It's a bold, stage-friendly song, featuring the lyrics "I will never get to touch you so I wrote this song instead / Thinking about you lying in bed, it's gonna get inside your head." On Pulp's penultimate album, 'This Is Hardcore', Jarvis was the pornographer's assistant, cool and densensitized in the face of carnal matters. On 'Further Complications' he's obsessed with sex, desperate to be the rockstar surrounded by girls on the tour bus. He ends up resembling the man leaving the adult store with a DVD under his coat.
'Caucasian Blues[ is a full-bodied well-aged bottle of wine of a tune, with hints of Beatles-era twanging guitars, but has much more of a Nick Cave lyrical feel. It invites a pretty direct comparison with Cave's brilliant Grinderman track 'No Pussy Blues' and, unfortunately, falls down in the face of Cave's ineffable cool. The veil is lifted on a generic sense of mid-life anxiety that Cocker is experiencing. He describes the track himself as "an attempt to understand the pain of a man whose Honda Goldwing has run out of petrol" - it's all climate-change and money and baldness. Perhaps when, as a 45-year-old man, my Goldwing breaks down I'll run straight to the stereo to put this track, and pick out this review to look at and tut at the folly of my youth, but right now we want answers Jarvis. We want to see the light at the tunnel of our own human inadequacy. Show us the way!
Perhaps most disappointingly, this album often sounds like a composite of influences, particularly Nick Cave, The Stones and Roxy Music, though there are others on there as well. Why? You have to ask. Jarvis is like Nick Cave, is like Morissey is like Bryan Ferry. You expect these people to produce albums, and particularly vocal performances that, for whatever else they are, have that defining idiosyncratic quality that makes you love them.
The title track 'Further Complications' and slow-number 'I Never Said I Was Deep' are the album's redeeming features, with the former being the best example of Cocker's new direction and the latter being the most Pulp-esque of all the new tracks. So there is good stuff on there, despite the fact that this review has focussed on the negative. The sense of disappointment is only because we come from a starting point of expecting Jarvis to be brilliant. He's still enjoyable, very enjoyable, but it's potential that has been covered over a little on this album to its detriment.