I’ve done the spiel all before, about how Jarvis Cocker is one of my personal idols and a true master of music. I’ve loved all his work, his post-Pulp material has been extremely rewarding and it’s needless to say that his work in the 90s Britpop group has left a lasting impression on me. Pre-ordering an album, let alone a vinyl, is something I have never previously done. I pre-ordered his latest album, Beyond the Pale, and then a day later it was pushed back to a September release. Heartbroken isn’t the word for it. No really, it isn’t, I was more just mildly disgruntled. But, as luck would have it, the album appeared on YouTube on Cocker’s channel.
There’s a little bit of me that feels delighted to hear it all in its completed state, finally. Only seven songs make up the album, each a lengthy titan in its own right. Save the Whale opens us up into what we can expect from the rest of the album, which is nothing short of delightfully strange yet puzzlingly mediocre.
My biggest struggle was another listen of Must I Evolve?, a song that, upon initial release, didn’t do all that much for me. Sandwiched between Save the Whale and Am I Missing Something, it still doesn’t do all that much for me. Bringing out the funky pop sound of Pulp’s Intro album and colliding it headfirst into Cocker’s unique lyrical style. It’s an awkwardly janky mix, the fast-paced tempo of the song settles well but the lyrics aren’t up to scratch. It all comes down to the length of the songs, tirelessly droning on through lukewarm lyrics. We miss out on the witty, sexual overtones fans of Cocker’s lyrics will be used to. Replacing these mesmerising musings on love, sex and betrayal with shallow mannerisms and some rather experimental instrumentals isn’t all that justifiable.
There’s a noticeable step down in the wording of the songs. No more mystery protruding from the dark recesses of his mind. No indication that the glory days ever happened, nor a single flutter of his former charm. Growth in an artist is inevitable, but the direction Cocker has taken his Jarv…Is project is clunky and definitely in need of work. House Music All Night Long marks the expected high of the album, the masterful solo drops right toward the end of Am I Missing Something and before the lyrically empty but instrumentally rewarding Sometimes I Am Pharoh.
Swanky Modes is the closest we get to new material that doesn’t feel exhausted. Cocker’s lyrics are much more prominent. The descriptive longing for an unknown subject present themselves within the lyrics, accompanied by a slow violin quartet. Sadly, one of the shortest songs on the album. We’re quickly thrust into Children of the Echo, a mildly entertaining piece that, like most of the album, suffers from over-indulgence in shallow lyrics. The backing vocals too really drag the song through the mud, feeling out of place at times, regurgitating the same bland ideas. “The echo fades with diminishing returns” is the line the final song ends on, and I can think of no better explanation for how the album presents itself.
Perhaps it’ll grow on me, but for now, I can’t quite get behind Beyond the Pale. By far the weakest of his solo works, even if we do cling onto the hope that House Music All Night Long and Swanky Modes presents us with. The rest of the albums stops and starts in an unfortunately frequent manner, and it begs the question as to whether or not Cocker has got any fuel left in the tank. He cites Jarv Is as a live experience, so perhaps it’ll be better in a face to face environment. Or maybe it’s a fault of my own ears. The third track sums it up nicely. Am I Missing Something?