The signs should’ve been obvious. If we look at a list of things Ariel Pink has gone and done in the last year, there’s a recurring theme. For instance, he’s appeared as a guest vocalist on a Stooges album sans Iggy Pop. He’s starred in a Donny & Joe Emerson music video. He’s also got into trolling, throwing misogynistic comments around and defending the Westboro Baptist Church. Of course, he’s kidding - at least we’d hope so. In any case though, he seems to be trying his hardest to push his persona to its furthest obscurities. If the idea behind ‘pom pom’ was to simultaneously alienate his audience as much as possible while also coming across as a bit of a pleb, Pink has succeeded brilliantly.
Essentially the sort of soundtrack that’d be found on a new Adult Swim TV show, ‘pom pom’ is a record of eschewed Saturday morning cartoon emulations and unintelligible nonsense. No matter what angle it’s approached from, it’s hard to think of any situation where a good time can be had from listening to it apart from a drug-fuelled gathering consisting of nymphomaniac Tumblr addicts. ‘Mature Themes’ showed signs of Pink heading in this direction, with songs like ‘Kinski Assassin’, ‘Is This The Best Spot?’ and ‘Schnitzel Boogie’. They were all playful though; mildly amusing tracks that deep down had some sickly sweet melodies and tangible hooks. One listen to opener ‘Plastic Raincoats In The Pig Parade’ however doesn’t yield the same results: it’s overbearing and frustrating from the get go, and to be frank, it feels like he’s taking the piss.
If listening to Pink sing about his sexual prowess over a creepy nursery rhyme melody (“sexual athletics, don’t call it perversion” is a line that’s seriously sung over what sounds like ring-a ring-a roses) is something that sounds appealing, then be my guest and tuck in. Even more so if following that up with a wobbly, warped vocal of repeated “jell-o”’s is what ticks your boxes. It’s a real shame, as anyone who’s listened to ‘Before Today’ will know that Pink can blur the lines between satire and song excellently, as well as permeate a masterclass in pop melodies through said lines too. He does it occasionally on ‘pom pom’, and it’s easy to see why ‘Put Your Number In My Phone’ is the lead single as it’s the best song amongst this sprawling seventeen-track collection, all silky smooth and pristine and slightly twisted. Nonetheless, if anyone can listen to the almost six-minute long ‘Dinosaur Carebears’ and not feel nauseous, then hats off to them.
‘One Summer Night’ is also terrific. It’s reminiscent of Pink’s recent collaborations with Jorge Elbrecht, in particular ‘Hang On to Life’. Pink’s got the capabilities to write a soaring, widescreen ballad, and he clearly demonstrates it on ‘One Summer Night’ with its sweeping, crunchy keys. In fact, he’s obviously got the capabilities to write simply great songs, and even some of the zaniest tracks like ‘Not Enough Violence’ might be totally barmy but still retain that enjoyable, quirky Pink aesthetic. It’s frustrating then that far too often on ‘pom pom’ Pink resorts to self-indulgence and plain silliness, ruining tracks with ridiculous kid’s TV samples and unclassifiable gobbledegook (all eyes on you, ‘Nude Beach A Go-Go’). A record that needs its fat well and truly trimming, it’s a shame that an artist as established and forward-thinking as Pink would simply stop giving a shit, but it’s happened on ‘pom pom’ and it may well continue happening from here on out.