IF NOEL Fielding had such a thing as an evil twin, then LA’s Ariel Pink just might be it, for in pom pom, he has just unleashed possibly the strangest album of 2014, and certainly the year’s most eccentrically uninhibited.
In his Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti guise, Pink released two wonderfully left-field pop albums, Before Today (2010 ) and Mature Themes (2012 ), though they are positively mainstream compared to pom pom, where the singer-songwriter allows his fixation with seventies disco, Lodger-era Bowie, and his own supremely outré imagination free rein.
“The sky was white and black and polka dotted...and all of a sudden I was alloted/the chance to go in a pig parade” goes the opening line of opening track ‘Plastic Raincoats In The Pig Parade’. Its high pitched “Oh Yeah! Oh Yeah”’s and sing-along moments draw on the kind of melodies associated with children/family musicals, but its surreal imagery and slightly unhinged nature make it a parade that troops away from conventionality.
Pom pom makes no apologies for its indebtedness to 1980s new wave and new romanticism, with its gossamer keyboards, smooth bass, post-punk atmospherics, melodicism, and disco fixations - resulting in a number of outstanding songs, like ‘Lipstick’ and 'Put Your Number In My Phone' (and some unintentional era-pastiches like ‘Not Enough Violence’ ).
This gives a cohesiveness to the album even when it rushes headlong into its oddest moments, such as the surf-rock from hell of ‘Nude Beach A Go-Go’ or ‘Sexual Athletics’, where the machismo boasting and garage-rock stomp give way to a poignant ballad of a lonely man looking for companionship. More eccentric still is ‘Dinosaur Carebares’. Its faux-Middle Eastern opening segues into doom laden psych-Goth, then fairground/whirligig abstraction, before resolving into white reggae!
The highlight though is ‘Black Ballerina’. Propelled by a irresistible white-funk/disco baseline, and a vocal that clearly owes a debt to Funkadelic, among others, it culminates in the inspired rush of the chorus which is the greatest such chorus the new romantics never had. Be prepared though for the bizarre dialogue section when a rural Irish auld lad introduces Pink to a topless dancer from the Sunset Strip.
Pom pom is a supremely melodic album and even a couple of listens will result in various chorus, bridges, and refrains taking up hard to shake residence in listeners’ heads.
It is an interesting phenomenon that sometimes the most melodic music can be the most fertile ground for experimentalism - witness The Beach Boys ‘Good Vibrations’ and Smile and everything The Beatles did from ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ onwards - ground breaking sonic experimentation and reimagining of what music could be, without sacrificing melodies that were themselves breathtakingly original. By contrast, much atonal music sounds like ‘easy to create noise’ by comparison.
Pink has not created something on a par with Sgt Pepper or The White Album, but pom pom is clearly in the tradition of where melodicism meets experimentalism and an unfettered imagination - and that is welcome. What results is an ambitious, often odd, sometimes brilliant album, that succeeds in being unapologetically true to its creators individual vision.