Jarvis Cocker’s position as a National Treasure is assured countless times over. Pulp frontman and all-round wit, he’s actually been largely silent for the past decade, his voice tending to adorn 6Music broadcasts, rather than recording sessions.
JARV… IS changes all that, though. Despite being the dominant force this is undoubtedly a group effort, having been assembled to play a set in Iceland as 2017 gasped its last. Since then they’ve played some exhilarating live shows, performances driven forward by a sheer, undiluted sense of drama and occasion – a reminder, perhaps, that there’s a lot more to pop music than simply the finished product.
Debut album ‘Beyond The Pale’ is seven tracks is timeless and timely genius from the finger-wagging Sheffield frontman, matching his lyrical wit to a series of fantastic arrangements, touching upon everything from Leonard Cohen documentaries to the lingering attractions of rave culture.
His first album of original material since ‘Further Complications’ in 2009, Jarvis is undoubtedly the main draw for JARV… IS but it should be reiterated what a fantastic ensemble experience the record actually is. Sonically it’s a dose of aural fixation, ranging from the subaqueous electronics that frame ‘Save The Whale’ through to the sloping bass line on ‘Children Of The Echo’, emerging from the speakers like some distant cousin of The Zombies’ cut ‘Time Of The Season’.
A project with real nuance, ‘Beyond The Pale’ is also struck through with palpable immediacy. ‘Must I Evolve’ is a staple of their live sets and its become a fan favourite, the chirruping backing vocals set against Jarvis Cocker’s probing lyric. The song itself leans more towards post-punk, and finds the frontman literally re-setting the clock – it was prompted by a performance in a neolithic cave close to his native Sheffield.
With the group’s stated aim to explore the prospect of writing songs in collaboration with the audience, there’s a crackle of concert electricity at Jarvis’ fingertips throughout. ‘Children Of The Echo’ was recorded live at Primavera last year, and there’s a muscle, a tight-knit urgency that pushes JARV… IS forwards.
‘House Music All Night Long’ has that call-and-response festival feel, but it’s sense of missing out on the party - “God damn this claustrophobia / Cos I should be disrobing ya...” - is a wonderfully eloquent evocation of lockdown life.
A record draped in FOMO, it finds Jarvis Cocker resuming his role as the perpetual outsider. He’s tempted, but never fully gives in, by the cultural temptations around him; take album standout ‘Am I Missing Something’, and it’s waspish lyric “I don’t want to dance with the Devil / But d’you mind if I tap my foot?”
‘Beyond The Pale’ is bedecked in highlights, a project draped in fantastic moments. It’s a funny, theatrical, but intensely musical experience, with those curious flourishes and daubs of colour – the neat arrangement on ‘Swanky Modes’, the stop-start structure of ‘Sometimes I Am Pharoah’ - pushing JARV… IS out into a realm of their own.
It would be easy, given his illustrious catalogue, to judge Jarvis Cocker against his past, but that would unfair to what JARV… IS have achieved together. ‘Beyond The Pale’ stands alone – sure, there are parallels with his previous work, but neither should we expect the frontman to undergo some Doctor Who esque regeneration. Instead, JARV… IS grapple with fresh possibilities in a wry, recognisable, but incredibly fresh way.
‘Beyond The Pale’ is a triumph.
Words: Robin Murray
- - -
- - -
Join us on the ad-free creative social network Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks, exclusive content and access to Clash Live events and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.