Heartbreak, loneliness, feeling like an outcast in society . . . these themes have no doubt filled a near-infinite number of recorded minutes, from the first days of recorded music until now. But there’s different ways of approaching them. Sad music can be the most grueling thing you’ll ever hear—pretentious as can be—or it cause an indescribably, unbelievably physical emotional reaction, bringing your heart up into your throat and sending shivers through your bones. It’s all in the words and delivery, in how heartfelt they seem. It’s a tricky business, how to express longing and emptiness without making people want to slap you. Pinkie navigate it in the most gorgeous manner on their seven-song My Little Experiment EP, using gentle pop-rock songs to touch the dark secret feelings every person has.
In a way, melody is the key. Alex Sharkey, the vocalist/guitarist/songwriter who essentially is Pinkie, comes up with hooks that are so quietly awe-inspiring that they carry the song’s emotions right into listeners with ease. Pinkie uses acoustic guitar, synthesizer (at times sounding like strings, other times like waves) and carefully delicate singing to put the melodies and words in an appropriately sweet context. The music is always as beautiful and as heartbreaking as the sentiment. The song “I’m Afraid You’re Just Like Me” especially integrates melody right into the atmosphere, so the structure of the songs lifts in a sublime, pretty way.
Pinkie’s version of sad music succeeds because it has a certain romance to it. Some groups, like the Smiths, for example, made sadness into romance—they made dying together in a car crash sound like lovers’ most perfect fate. Pinkie instead takes the sadness of life, and of human relationships, and matches it with an acknowledgement of the joy that comes through affection and connection. The hope behind every song is that someone will stick around to make life easier, to help make the loneliness disappear. The perspective is often resignation but never a reveling in sadness, never a glorification of gloom. The opening track, “Pantomime”, gives a sense of feeling sorry for oneself, but also has that hope for love and attachment. A sentiment like “All I dram about is not being me” is matched with a romantic wish/promise: “If my arms could reach, I’d put them around you now / I’d dive into your eyes, what a way to drown.”
If My Little Experiment sounds like it could just as well be from the late ‘80s or early ‘90s as from 2001, it’s because Sharkey is continuing the sound his band Brighter played during that time period. That band, on the now widely revered British label Sarah Records, made magnificently honest and touching pop music. Now on his own, he’s doing much the same with Pinkie, yet it doesn’t feel like he’s retreading or back-stepping. This sort of piercing, beautiful expression of feeling is timeless. It stands outside of trends or fads, and will have the same power decades from now as it does not.