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JARV IS Beyond the Pale gets 6.5/10


JARV IS…

Beyond the Pale
Rough Trade/Remote Control

6.5/10

In his long and illustrious career, Jarvis Cocker has taken many forms, from his esoteric solo incarnation to autodidactic radio presenter. Now we arrive at JARV IS…, the band with the unsettling name that consists of Jarvis as its lead alongside Serafina Steer (harp, keyboards, vocals), Emma Smith (violin, guitar vocals), Andrew McKinney (bass, vocals), Jason Buckle (synthesiser & electronic treatments), and Adam Betts (drums, percussion, vocals).

Beyond the Pale is the first original music from Cocker since 2009’s Further Complications. The peculiarity of Beyond the Pale is that it’s both a live album and not: the six-piece came together in 2017 to play shows without releasing any music, but a record was later assembled by adding studio overdubs to the live tapes they’d been using for personal use. Cocker has always been a man of pretension so it doesn’t come as a shock that he labels Beyond the Pale an “alive album” (does anyone else remember when that other aging British rock icon Morrissey labelled himself a “Humasexual”?). It’s a novel approach that only slightly works, the studio and stage combination failing to capture the energy of true live performance. 

Contrivances aside, Beyond the Pale is a mixed success. It’s a tiresome listen, every song stretching far longer than necessary, often in need of edits; the magnetism of Cocker’s onstage persona lost as he spouts his spoken word ramblings here. 

Unsurprisingly since it’s the ex-Pulp frontman, the album pulsates with sleaziness and swagger. Songs like House Music All Night Long harken back to his gyrating Britpop era days in sound and words. The art rock songs spillover with jittery synthesizers and shaggy middle-aged man musings. The downtempo ballad Swanky Modes is a sonic treat, a sad mixture of tender dub and tempered piano and Sometimes I Am Pharaoh was actually recorded live in a cavern in England.

Cocker’s songwriting remains well-formed and intriguing. A lot of it is infused with a keen awareness of Cocker being in a new part of his life and considering his place in the world (“You are a manifestation of the universe/ Your form is unimportant” he utters on Save The Whale). On the excellent Must I Evolve?, Cocker drolly takes us on a journey all the way from the big bang to a rave in a familiar field where someone has lost their drugs: “The mind in the cave, out of your mind at a rave”; the infinite and the finite are always connected. 

The space rock of closing track Children of the Echo contains subtle tongue clicks and electronic ticks as he declares that “We are the children of the echo,” and this line encapsulates Cocker’s meaning behind the album: we are all created from the same evolutionary path, art will be repeated, life is short, our time will come. And so Cocker and his crew deserve credit for attempting something fresh, at the very least. Commitment to a proper album next may benefit JARV IS moving forward though.

CONOR LOCHRIE

 

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