ALBUM REVIEW: JARV IS – BEYOND THE PALE (ROUGH TRADE)
In my childhood britpop phase, I owned quite a few Pulp albums. And looking back, that wasn’t a bad phase by no means. ‘Different Class’ especially holds up, with it’s lyrical themes of class divisions, dodgy relationships and music festivals. Even when it comes off a little polarizing, it’s brave. The man behind all this, Jarvis Cocker, is now back with a new project, after a lengthy period in the shadows. One in which he spent time writing music with his new band. Building anticipation with numerous delays because of the coronavirus. Finally, Cockers project is dropping on Friday. However, I have no reason to be excited for this event. There were warning signs from a distance. The main one being that Cocker has named his new band (Jarv Is), after himself. Straight away proving he’s fallen into the pretentious category that some musicians tend to fall into after success, disregarding the other musicians in his so-called ‘band’ (who truthfully don’t really save this record, so it doesn’t matter). Already it would be embarrassing to see it on a vinyl shelf, but they say ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’, so i’ll stick to what is in it’s contents.
Opener, ‘Save The Whale’ is a straight rip of Leonard Cohen’s ‘I’m Your Man’. From the stale 80s instrumental, to Cocker’s put on gravelly voice. It sounds more like a parody of Cohen, rather than one of influence and admiration. The lyrics do not live up to anything Cohen wrote. Instead they are undercooked, reading like school poetry from a parallel universe where children could get drunk legally. The lyrics don’t even make sense. Here is a snippet: ‘While the world got technologically infatuated, I was busy getting saturated. I like it, dog movie on the yin and yang for you and me. The male and the female’. What?
‘MUST I EVOLVE?’ is even worse. Cocker spends the intro asking absurd questions like, ‘Must I grow up?’ and ‘Must I grow old’. By this point, seeing the track is 7 minutes long, I’d rather he asked ‘Must I make music? Or take a job in air conditioning?’ Because at least then I could give an answer. The female backing vocals (that for some reason pop up on this LP constantly, as if it’s a gospel record or something) sound like they come off the preset for some crappy music producing program. ‘YES YES YES YES’ ‘NO NO NO NO’. It is so grating that Cocker may as well have sampled the lady on the phone operator and it would have had the same effect. Cocker lyrically moves on to try and artistically explain the big bang, but unfortunately runs into a wall, by going off on weak non consequitur rambles about human kind. Including cringe worthy lines such as ‘Listening to Frankie Knuckles, while dragging my knuckles’. Here he somehow forgets to finish explaining his theory. That being that the big bang was actually a ‘small pop’. Maybe if Cocker had researched science, instead of fretting over capitalizing the title pretentiously, he could’ve come up with a more compelling song. The production is clunky, and it feels like the group are throwing everything at the wall until something (or nothing, in this case) sticks.
The rest of the album follows a similar formula. Long, unmemorable songs, with the most boring, 80s sheened production. Sub par a few moments, where a glimmer of hope is seen, and then snatched away. ‘Sometimes I Am Pharoah’ has the hint of being a good instrumental, as some jazzier elements are put into place. Yet somehow the rest of the group still manage to make it sound like a bad 80s number. Similarly with the more stripped back ‘Swanky Modes’, where Cocker lyrically seems a little less grating. It even homes in to the early Pulp days, but certainly not their prime. Cocker delivers some lyrics about missing a distant lover, and it isn’t too offensive. That being until the backing vocals come in and give a cheesy ‘No Shit Sherlock’ after he makes a statement. I picture Cocker on the tour bus: “GUYS! I thought of this really cool idea for the Swanky Modes track. Let’s include a ‘No Shit Sherlock’ joke. It’ll make me look so original!’. Yeah, it’s a mess. I almost lost my jaw from cringing here.
I can only really give it to Cocker when once in a blue moon a lyrical gem pops up. Take ‘Am I Missing Something?’ A track in which Cocker humorously states ‘I don’t want to dance with the devil. But do you mind if I tap my foot?’. The best line on the album by a country mile, but still a forgettable album moment. Or ‘House Music All Night Long’ which feels somewhat relevent in covid crisis, and brings in the most interesting instrumental on the LP. But really? For a record that supposedly took “2 years of collaboration to make”, it’s very self indulgent and really only for the diehard Cocker fans.