Explain yourself, Mr Cocker. What is this beast, you have created? “JARV IS… an ongoing live experience because life is an ongoing live experience” exclaims the press release, “THIS IS NOT A LIVE ALBUM – it’s an ALIVE ALBUM.” A bold and pretentious claim. Don’t believe the hype. But give it a listen, anyway. Actually, ‘JARV IS’ is Jarvis Cocker’s latest band. The latest vehicle for his dry, sly, and occasionally debauched English wit. Fans will know him well, critics will say this is more of the same Cocker we know, love or hate. But like all his best moves, it’s a cracking good listen!
‘JARV IS’ is the new Tin Machine, the new Raconteurs – a band with an imbedded pop star who actually does most of the work. Cocker does the vocals, the guitars, and some percussion. Although, he’s roped in a talented bunch of players from various jazz and electronic outfits to add class and some fabulous musicianship. Make him look good, you could say. That crew includes harpist Serafina Steer (John Fox and the Maths, Shimmy Rivers); Emma Smith (violin and guitars); bassist Andrew McKinney (James Taylor Quartet); Jason Buckle (from jazz outfit All Seeing I) on synthesiser and “electronic treatments; and drummer Adam Betts (of experimental rock crew Three Trapped Tigers).
So Mr Cocker has a rather classy outfit behind him. They are not entirely new, not really. Actually JARV IS, the group, was formed to play a show at the Sigur Ros “Norður og Niður” festival in Iceland in a 2017 and since then a select number of Festival-goers across the globe have seen them play at various boutique events. Each gig has provided anther opportunity to road test another of the seven tracks finally compiled here.
I always think of Cocker as a modern-day version of Oscar Wilde or Noel Coward and a sort of every man intellectual. Back in the days of Pulp, Cocker revelled in mixing his right-leaning socialism and left-leaning conservatism and conjuring up some wonderful acid-tinged vignettes. But on ‘Beyond The Pale’, however, he goes one better. He’s always focussed his pen on the everyday, the ‘mundane reality’. We all know about his celebrations of ‘the common people’. Well he is a son of South Yorkshire, after all. This time he takes on the entire world!
“Save The Whale”, the opening track, turns the tap on full bore. The song is saturated in big themes covering everything from the evolution of humanity right through to our own extinction. He could not have possibly predicted the impacts of Covid-19 when he wrote this. Yet the advice to us going through and emerging from Lock Down just seems so appropriate: “Take your foot off the gas because it’s all downhill from here.” In that contect could he mean slow down while you can or does he actually mean ‘why worry? We’re doomed, anyway. Enjoy what you’ve got”. You decide.
What precisely Cocker is on about in this delicious Leonard Cohen / ‘I’m Your Man’ ripoff, is not entirely clear. My liner notes tell me, in his own words, that “the title popped into my head as I was leaving the cinema after having seen Nick Broomfield’s Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love documentary. The “Smooth World, Wrinkly World” section came from a childhood memory of being ill: I would hear the murmuring of a large crowd accompanied by a visual image of a line-drawing (rather like a Patrick Caulfield painting… all the objects switched rapidly between being smooth & bulbous & then thin & wrinkly. It used to absolutely terrify me. Emma (our violinist & backing vocalist) found herself singing “Smooth World, Wrinkly World” as a lullaby to her 18 month-old daughter the other night.” I hope that’s clear as mud!
As expected there’s a good dollop of self-deprecation on this album, too. The single (released late last year) ‘Must I Evolve?’ covers the difficulties of personal growth like it’s an evitable dose of cod liver oil. This is more a one sided conversation than a song. Cocker breaths “That was the first time we started as pond slime / But now we are growing with none of us knowing / Where we are going / Where we are going / Must I evolve? / Yes, yes, yes, yes”. His hilariously dithering delivery is more like Jim from the ‘Vicar of Dibley’ than well-seasoned pop star.
Billy Idol made a career out of dancing with himself. So, why shouldn’t ‘JARV IS’ get in on the action? While his significant other is out of town, Cocker pumps it up, singing with dry banality about playing ‘House Music All Night Long’. This song is definitely not the nightclub banger you’d expect from the title, with a more ironic lounge groove to it. While I was listening to this, my 9 year old wandered in and casually accused me of listening to ‘Dad Rock’ I could help agreeing with her. I guess the sarcasm of the lyrics like were lost on her. “Who the hell would live in a house like this? / And deep in the basement, one foot on the pedal bin / This ain’t easy listenin’ “
Given the endless sushi train of chaos the UK has been riding the last few years – from Brexit to Covid-19 – it’s no surprise there will be some dark and sinister themes emerging in some form or other on this album. No songwriter living today could entirely block out the threat of moving in large gatherings and public spaces (Sometimes I Am Pharaoh). But Cocker is never satisfied with just observing. He wants to set up a punchline or two. More irony to deliver.
My personal favourite on this album comes from his bone dry ode to FOMO, ‘Am I Missing Something?’, which features some of his best lines. For example: “I don’t want to dance with the devil, but do you mind if I tap my foot?
There’s élan and sophisticated turns of phrase is all over this album. For example, he takes a gentle dig at the chattering classes on the foxy number ‘Swanky Modes’: “I can resist gentrification but I cannot resist temptation.”
The social media echo chamber and the temptations of the endless and all powerful algorithm snake are revealed on ‘Children of the Echo’. How do we know who we are, where we are going or even what we truly believe if everything we do is fed back to us in an endless loop of self affirmation? “I was born in the middle of the second verse, all my life I’ve tried to sing along, I’m not quite sure of all the words, but I haven’t got a clue just who wrote the song”.
While the rest of his aging peers are looking back to their 90’s Brit pop glory days – Liam Gallagher, I’m looking at you – Cocker and his band of merry minstrels effortlessly merge the fire of their live performances with the magic of the studio and all the possibilities of electronic programming and digital wizardry. It’s not a long listen. And that’s good, too. Short, sweet, pithy and ironic, packed with clever instrumentations, this album is a keeper for the future. The JARV IS… debut album Beyond The Pale is now coming out 7/17 on Rough Trade Records.
Originally published at – https://www.ambientlightblog.com/album-review-jarv-is-beyond-the-pale/