Some things are universal and timeless. The outpouring of love and support for the campaign to get Jarvis Cocker’s 2006 anti-establishment anthem ‘(C**ts Are Still) Running The World’ to Christmas Number One last year, in protest to the Tories’ Brexit failings, proved that the Sheffield’s icon’s mark on culture is ever-present. Pulp’s songs of sex, class, parties and standing out have also aged far better than most of their Britpop contemporaries’ output.
Cocker followed Pulps’s indefinite hiatus in 2002 with two solo records, 2006’s feisty debut ‘Jarvis’ and 2006’s Steve Albini-produced punky grunge of ‘Further Complications’. There was also 2017’s artsy Chilly Gonzales collaboration ‘Room 29’ (an indulgent concept album of lounge music inspired by LA’s iconic Chateau Marmont) but ultimately we’ve waited more than a decade for Cocker to return with a record driven by all of his full geek-pop might.
Thankfully, this is the album to satisfy us ‘mis-shapes’. ‘Beyond The Pale’ is a cracking addition to the Cocker canon, bursting with that Pulp knack for nerdy melodrama and primed for the dancefloor.
That energy is perhaps indebted to the rest of the band; JARV IS… is a whole new entity rather than a Jarvis Cocker solo vehicle. He formed the group in 2017 with multi-instrumentalist Serafina Steer and bassist and singer Emma Smith of London post-punk band Bas Jan. They were joined by Andrew McKinney, bassist with Rochester jazz-funkers James Taylor Quartet’s; Jason Buckle, one-third of Sheffield electronic group All Seeing I; and drummer Adam Betts of London experimental rockers Three Trapped Tigers.
Beyond The Pale’’s seven tracks took shape on a work-in-progress tour of small club gigs and unusual places – including The Devil’s Arse caves in Derbyshire – and were partly written, Cocker has said, “in collaboration with an audience”.
‘Beyond The Pale’ feels live, kinetic and present – as well as weirdly prescient. Take the ultimate FOMO anthem ‘House Music All Night Long’, a wickedly danceable diary entry from someone “lost in the land of the living room / Adrift in a world of interiors”, longing to be out on the lash and on the prowl but isolated and trapped in a domestic disco. Sound familiar? It was written of the pitfalls of middle-age, but somehow ended up being the soundtrack to 2020.
That track’s groove forms the backbone of ‘Beyond The Pale’. ‘MUST I EVOLVE’ is a silly psych-rock tale of man’s journey from the cave to the rave, a call to free ourselves from the trappings of modern life and revel in our primal state – in other words: just ‘ave it. It also gifts us with this textbook Cockerism: “I walked through a tunnel backwards through time / Dragging my knuckles / Listening to Frankie Knuckles”. ‘Children Of The Echo’, meanwhile, is a jazzy, Scott Walker-style takedown of Twitter miscommunication and received internet wisdom: “I don’t tick – I’m digital / Everything is black or white to me / I’m either on or off”.
Cocker sounds comfortable is elder statesman mode, and this is never truer than on the Leonard Cohen whisper of ‘Swanky Modes’, a nostalgic tribute to a Camden clothes shop from the ‘90s, the girl behind the counter and “the days of VHS and casual sex”. His trademark surreal voyeurism is also intact on the bubbling, sci-fi electro track ‘Save The Whale’, which finds him navigating a “new civilisation” populated by “people daubing the walls with semen and blood”. There’s vampiric menace in the ice-cold vein of Nick Cave on ‘Am I Missing Something’ and ‘Sometimes I Am Pharaoh’, albeit with an expanded palette of krautrock beats and stoner jams.
These are all welcome new flavours, but sadly, at just seven tracks long, ‘Beyond The Pale’ is all over too soon. Jarvis, you tease. Still, this is arguably Cocker’s best work since Pulp’s 1998 comedown record ‘This Is Hardcore’ and certainly a greatly promising start to his new chapter. Cocker remains in an entirely different class.
Release date: July 17
Record Label: Rough Trade