JARV IS… - Beyond the Pale Music Album Reviews

The debut album from the Pulp frontman’s new band uses a novel approach to recording that aims for the wild abandon of live music but only occasionally reaches it.

Beyond the Pale was never meant to exist. In 2017, Jarvis Cocker assembled a six-piece band that would only perform live, without releasing albums, and gave them a slightly confusing name: JARV IS… It took the intervention of Geoff Barrow to nudge the former Pulp frontman into making this record, which the band assembled by adding studio overdubs to live tapes they’d been recording for personal use. They call it an “alive album,” rather than a live one.
It’s a contrived and aspirational description for an album that aims for the wild abandon of live music but only occasionally reaches it. Beyond The Pale isn’t dead, certainly. But it’s moribund at times, like a post-festival straggler in need of three square meals and a vitamin shot rather than a rampaging rock god. It’s a shame because the idea of JARV IS… as a living transgression of the line between recorded and live music is interesting, and there are enough moments of lively inspiration to suggest what Beyond The Pale could have been, if it weren't weighted down with overlong songs and flat production.

Beyond the Pale’s songs tackle brilliantly un-rock’n’roll subjects, from evolution to the cabin fever of an aging raver, and lines like “God damn this claustrophobia/‘Cause I should be disrobing ya” show Cocker has not lost the wit that made him an unlikely Britpop icon. "Children of the Echo” has a rousing and unusual chorus that stands up to Cocker’s strongest melodies, and the verse of “House Music All Night Long” nails the classically British art of polite desperation.

Cocker’s excellent band combines atypical influences in intriguing new shapes, led by Emma Smith’s supple violin attack. Album highlight “Sometimes I Am Pharaoh”, whose basic track was recorded live in a cavern in middle England, is a sublimely freaky mixture of taut Roxy Music sophistication and frazzled tribal grunge, while “Swanky Modes” offers a rueful combination of dubwise bass and jazzy piano. Their approach is a bit like Pulp’s in their later years, albeit a version of that Pulp had lost something of their musical discipline and sharp edges.
The flab that buries Beyond the Pale’s highlights may be a result of the album’s half-live conceit. Several of the songs feature long spoken-word breakdowns, which are effective on stage, where Cocker can work his magnetic presence, but feel empty on record, undoing the bite of the better songs and exposing the faults of the weaker ones. “Children of the Echo” is a six-and-a-half-minute epic that has said it all in four, and “Am I Missing Something?” drags like a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Beyond the Pale contains plenty of sharp songwriting, but despite the intrigue of its premise, it may have benefitted from a more thorough commitment to making a proper album. The hybrid stage/studio setup captures the sprawl of a live gig without the excitement and possibility, and the sheen of a studio recording without the cohesion and refinement.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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JARV IS… - Beyond the Pale Music Album Reviews JARV IS… - Beyond the Pale Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Friday, July 24, 2020 Rating:

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