Steve Albini brings the noise to Jarvis Cocker's latest album - with mixed results.
Jarvis Cocker: Further Complications
Midlife crises are difficult things for any man to avoid. We've all witnessed middle-aged office workers desperately trying to revisit their youths rather than embrace the inevitable. But what do rock stars do when they start to feel a little over the hill? Answer: They hire Steve Albini. It's not a name that you'll recognise from the front cover of many records, but it's a safe bet you could find it written inside more than a few albums in your own collection. This Chicago-based producer is the man behind some of Nirvana, PJ Harvey and The Pixies' greatest records, as well as those of countless other artists.
Recent months have seen not only Jarvis, but also the Manic Street Preachers calling in Albini in the hope that he can give their latest albums a shot in the arm. The signature "Albini effect" is achieved by encouraging the artist to play live and fast, leaving little room for excess weight. There are few overdubs and the producer is notoriously reluctant to get involved with the songwriting process. As a result, Albini is credited with having helped to reinvigorate the sound of many artists.
But is a giant dose of adrenalin really what Jarvis Cocker's career needed? With his last album, 2006's Jarvis, the Sheffield singer successfully made the transition from Britpop survivor into a kind of poet laureate of pop. Sure, we've all known he could turn a phrase since the early days of Pulp, but the album reaffirmed the singer's place as one of Britain's most important voices. Since then he has curated festivals, given lectures and even grown a beard.
But with his second solo outing Further Complications, he seems to have transformed once again. This is Jarvis the stomp-rocking professor. It is undoubtedly the loudest record that he has ever created, with heaps of guitar fuzz and feral drumming. The album sounds like Cocker has rooted through his record collection and pulled out his favourite "danceable" LPs by The Stones, The Who, Roxy Music and The Stooges.
Sure, the change is refreshing, but it's also a little strange. The glam-rock-style Angela with its Thin Lizzy-riff and crashing drums is fun, but it also feels a little dumb. In fact, Leftovers, I Never Said I Was Deep, Slush and You're in My Eyes all centre around the same kind of love-struck mentality that the singer looked to be overcoming on his last record. Despite somewhat tedious subject matter, Leftovers does sound like the first song on the album to feature the classic fingerprint of Jarvis, boasting the opening line: "I met her in the museum of palaeontology and I make no bones about it."
Under closer inspection, after stripping away layers of later-day Nick Cave from the surface, almost every song features a glimmer of the intelligent and disarmingly honest pop star who won our hearts with Disco 2000. This album is also much more fun than his previous outing. Take the over the top Krautrock of Pilchard for example, in which Jarvis succeeds in getting early laughs without even using any words, and there is further evidence that Cocker's trademark wit can go beyond words on the sax-funk of Homewrecker (on which the original Batman theme is creatively employed).
The album's most bizarre song is Slush, written after the singer's eco-trip to the North Pole, on which he sings "If I could, I would refrigerate this moment." Perhaps he's finally starting to act his age. The quality doesn't lessen towards the end of the album either, with Caucasian Blues one of its finest moments. However the drums never let up, either - an unfortunate side effect of Albini's involvement.
Despite its shortcomings, Further Complications is the most fun record that Jarvis has made since 1995's Different Class. It also has the odd combination of feeling both incredibly derivative and at the same time like new ground has been broken.