There’s a depressing and frustrating inevitability of waiting for once great artists to turn serially underwhelming later in their careers. Thankfully for Cocker fans, new album Beyond the Pale, from latest incarnation JARV IS…, is not that turning point. At 56, Jarvis may be older, but he’s more irreverent than arch. The once tragicomic monologues now verge on the absurd with their humour, insights into human behaviour, and self analysis. And we still have his tales of everyday sexual encounters to look forward to, as he looks back to when he was shagging his way through suburbia’s secret shame.
Evolution is the major theme of the album. But in JARV IS…’s eyes, not all change is for the better:
‘While the world was getting technologically infatuated, I was busy getting saturated’
‘Sometimes I Am Pharaoh’ has to be the first song written from the perspective of the statue street performer, albeit one railing against modern obsessions. He’s shocking tourists back into reality from their Insta-stupour. He’s there to remind them of what life is meant to feel like as they post pictures of fried food in front of famous buildings which are, in turn, used mistakenly to fill the spiritual void in their lives.
So, despite the recognition of the need to change, it’s wrapped with reluctance. ‘Must I change? Must I develop?’ Jarvis asks on opener ‘Must I Evolve?’. ‘Yes yes yes’, comes the reply like an obedient congregation giving thanks. These poshly nonchalant and barely sung backing vocals that punctuate throughout will be recognisable to fans of Baxter Dury’s The Night Chancers. Their interjection of ‘no shit, Sherlock’ on ‘Swanky Modes’ says it all. I’m not sure who inspired who here, but on ‘Am I Missing Something’ you can’t, well, miss the Bowie influence.
‘Swanky Modes’ is a delightfully bathetic, pervy nostalgia piece, harking back to ‘the days of VHS and casual sex’. An ‘I Spy’ for the 2020s. ‘You sat down, on the work surface, and I got down to work on your surface’, he whispers. It’s some top Cocker-brand filth. That’s before we crash back down with:
‘The crumbs left marks you tried to brush them off/I tried to make tea but the milk was off/I forgot my shopping in my rush to get home.’
If bang up to date is more your thing then consider whether ‘House Music’ is about lockdown. It certainly feels like it could be. As with the borrowed and adapted lyric ‘one nation under a roof’, it may well have evolved without us realising. Being locked down doesn’t suit Jarvis and you can guess what’s on his mind:
‘Goddamn this claustrophobia/’Cause I should be disrobing ya/Yeah, in a woodland glade/With the wind in your face.’
Apparently JARV IS… evolved as a band performing at festivals, and you can hear elements of this sound. ‘Children of the Echo’ is the very sound of early afternoon in muddy wellies, cardboard-trayed lunch digesting, plastic-cupped beer in hand. Forget your strawberries in cream, it’s as quintessential a part of the British summertime as the intimidating beet-red hairy shirtless men you wish you hadn’t seen on a hot day. As a former Glastonbury headliner, Jarvis is no stranger to this festival experience. Indeed, many of the songs have this recorded as live quality. They sound like they’re being performed to a main stage audience rather than simply played to the studio mic.
At only seven songs in length, Beyond the Pale is over before you know it. It’s just short enough to fill the limited time in that postprandial festival slot, but still long enough to give you everything you want from a Jarvis Cocker album. Once again he delivers on the lyrics too – one of a select bunch of artists with whose lyrics I really engage. The subject of the commentary on our modern existence isn’t exactly original, but delivered in the delightful yet slightly unsettling way that only Jarvis can. This is a supremely enjoyable album that delicately balances being at once new and set in its ways. It’s an evolution, not a revolution.
Words by James Spearing