Jarvis Cocker has always sounded vaguely middle-aged, hasn't he? It's nothing to do with glasses or the corduroy Oxfam suits. Or the fact that during the height of his fame with Pulp in London, he would go home on weekends to Sheffield to stay with his Saskia, or the fact that his grandad had a DIY shop.
The bookish 56 year old is, I suspect, not that different now to when he was a bookish 26 year old. Jarvis is still writing like a laughing gas-inhaling Alan Bennett sat, however improbably, on a whoopee cushion with Leonard Cohen. On This Is Hardcore, the 1998 album from his former band Pulp, Jarvis sounded so world-weary and bleak that he made Mr Cohen appear like a member of One Direction.
Here on Beyond The Pale, his debut album from his band Jarv Is, and his latest album release since Room 29 (with Chilly Gonzales), the class-war warrior from Sheffield is back with, well... seven songs. He delighted in telling The New York Times recently that two of the finest albums ever made, Funhouse by The Stooges and Aja by Steely Dan, have seven songs apiece too. Asked by the same publication whether the title of his new album is partly about the shrinking relevance of white people, Jarvis answered that he hadn't thought about that.
"Somebody told me the origins of 'beyond the Pale' is to do with when the English were occupying Dublin, and they had a section of town that was the Pale. That was where you were safe. If you went beyond the Pale, you were in the danger zone."
He is not so much in the danger zone as in a time warp that brings him back to the past, especially on Swanky Modes where he is returning to the scene of the crime of 1995's Sorted for E's and Wizz. Of the latter, he posed the famously paranoid question: "What if you never come down?" Here on Swanky Modes, he reminisces about how "Some fell by the wayside/ Some moved up to Teeside," before adding: "Some still scoring cocaine/ Some laid up with back pain/ Ain't it sad when your dreams outlast you?/The things you do to make life go faster..."
Backed by harpist Serafina Steer and violinist-guitarist Emma Smith, Save The Whale owes a debt of gratitude or inspiration to the aforementioned Leonard Cohen. "Take your foot off the gas," Jarvis sings, "Because it's all downhill from here." Sometimes I Am Pharaoh and Must I Evolve? - both recorded during an 2018 performance in a cave in Derbyshire - is forelock-tugging introspection tinged with nostalgia. "Someone has lost their drugs in the long grass/Cars pass by," he sings on Must I Evolve, "And the occasional badger." Nothing here is as good, of course, as Jarv in his heyday in 1995: Common People (that tale of a posh girl sexually slumming it) and I Spy (about a bitter cuckolded husband) or even that darkest of truths masquerading as a song, C**ts Are Still Running The World (a track that is still as true now as it was in 2006 ), but that's besides the point.
Lest we forget, Jarvis is a man whose Pulp-era girlfriend reminded him: "The only time I find out what's on your mind is if I come to one of your concerts". I don't know what we find out about Jarvis' mind from listening to Beyond The Pale.
Sunday Indo Living