Jarvis Cocker likes to experiment with wordplay. He also likes experimenting with music and Beyond the Pale captures both of these talents beautifully. JARV IS…, a band of musicians Cocker gathered from across the UK, have a name that might sound like the Britpop legend, but they are more like a collective’alter ego’ of the iconic artist.
Beyond the Pale is both an album and a cooperative experiment. The record is based on live performances with studio overdubs. It is a result of writing songs in collaboration with the audience, that somehow ended up in the studio. The grouped defined the record as an ‘alive album’ and its recording process certainly lives up to that slogan. Tracks ‘Must I Evolve?’ and ‘Sometimes I Am Pharaoh’ were recorded during an April 2018 performance in Peak Cavern just outside of Sheffield, locally known as the Devil’s Arse.
The album stretches far beyond gimmicks though and demonstrates Cocker’s continued skills as a lyricist and musical megamind. Beyond the Pale is a celebration of influences that go back over four decades. Some of the ‘music tricks’ he pulls out the hat are not obvious on a first lesson, perhaps hidden a little far up his sleeve in areas.
As previously mentioned, wordplay is one of Cocker’s finest tricks and it is not just the group’s name Cocker messes with. The strangely prophetic ‘House Music All Night Long’, seems like a party track on the surface. Its playful verse, gives way to nineties synths and to a chorus that sounds like its from a Roxy Music back catalogue. The lyrics to the track come to tell a different story though. “Lost in the land of the living room. Adrift in a world of interiors”, “Saturday Night Cabin Fever In House Nation”, and “God damn this claustrophobia,” suggest Cocker is talking about ‘House’ in the more domestic sense.
Beyond the Pale deals with this theme of domestic isolation throughout, as well as problematic relationships, while also touching on world politics. Darker themes than we have come to expect from music’s common hero.
‘Swanky Modes’ is a highlight of the record which tells a story that could have been written in the Tom Waits universe, with a jazzy Leonard Cohen piano background.
The album is all encompassing, featuring influences as far and wide as musically possible. On the album closer, ‘Children of the Echo’, JARV IS… even manage to join Latin bass lines with vintage pop melodies. It shows Jarvis Cocker is by no means out of his stride although the album can feel a little trite in areas, with some tracks leaving the impression they should have ended at least two minutes before they actually did.
As a standalone record, Beyond the Pale, is an inventive collection of work, with lyrics that are both sarcastic and sinister, but always gut-punchingly clever. It has all the ingredients to leave its own stamp and is certainly the most exciting work Jarvis Cocker has produced since Pulp.