Unless you've drank the Kool-Aid, Ariel Pink's new album is barely listenable.Mexican Summer, 2017
Purchase: Bandcamp / Amazon
3.5 / 10
If my ten-year-old nephew gave me Ariel Pink‘s new album, Dedicated to Bobby Jameson, and said that he and his friends recorded it, I’d believe him. It’s childish in a sense that most of Ariel Pink’s work is: lyrics that don’t belie any real feeling or thought, melodies that can be interesting but are mostly repetitive, and a delivery that is “tongue-in-cheek” at best and at worst thoughtless. And you may say “Hey dude, you just don’t like Ariel Pink, so…” and I’ll stop you right there because I do like Ariel Pink. Every record of his since 2010’s Before Today has been a pleasure.
When you read early reviews for Dedicated to Bobby Jameson, you’ll read writers repeating the same thoughts. Things like this is ostensibly an “introverted”, “reflective” Pink. In what sense? He’s still writing songs about Santa Claus, sex, and werewolves. There are maybe two signifiers for this, though: the album’s title and the production/mixing, which is really awful.
First, the title. Pink dedicates this album to Bobby Jameson, an almost-made-it rock star that never was, over three decades ago. It’s a great sentiment, but it’s not a serious theme for the album. There’s a song by the same title, and that’s about as close as you’re going to get. As for the production? It’s so insultingly bad that it’ll make the greatest sound system perform like a cellphone speaker. No highs, no lows — just mids, the way you’ll get on a portable Walkman cassette player. Sure, there’s something to be said about the nostalgia that comes with this sound, but nostalgia is the only value it has. It sounds awful, and nearly every instrument sounds similar when it’s buried in this mix. This shitty mix isn’t “quaint” or “introspective” or “reflexive”. It’s bad, and it keeps you at a distance for no functional reason.
All of this would be forgivable if these songs were good, but they all pale in comparison to even the lesser tracks on pom pom. The “serious” tracks, like “Feels Like Heaven” or “Kitchen Witch” are dreadfully boring. You’ll notice that I’m throwing scare-quotes on “serious” because it’s only serious in the sense that they sound like Pink is actually trying to record something listenable. If you came across any of these tamer songs while visiting the depths of YouTube, and they listed some obscure ’80s pop band as the author, you’d give them no thought, thinking that they sound like any mediocre, disposable track from that era. I guess we should reframe it as something interesting and special, knowing that it’s from 2017, right?
Other tracks sound as if Pink recorded them for novelty kid parties. And even the album’s opener, “Time To Meet Your God”, is exhausting at its fourth second. But don’t worry, the entire song latches onto this repetitive, stupid melody for another two-and-a-half minutes. Other tracks, like “Death Patrol” are weird and almost work, but Pink feels the need to pitch everything at an ironic distance as if the horrible production wasn’t enough to distance you from him.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a smaller focus. While pom pom was big and exuberant, Dedicated to Bobby Jameson is not smaller, only cheaper. Ariel Pink is a “bedroom artist” in the sense that his best work is insular, but that doesn’t mean to treat it that way. Before Today, Mature Themes, and pom pom are what they are because they feel like some weirdo found his way into a nice recording studio and cut a dozen tracks before the janitor stopped by and noticed that he was making music. It’s okay, though. You see, Ariel Pink is intentionally recording bad, cheesy music, preempting any real criticism.
“Do Yourself A Favor”