pom pom is up there with Ariel Pink's very best work, even if there’s nothing as insanely hooky as “Round and Round".
I’ve already mentioned in PopMatters that Ariel Marcus Rosenberg is a pretty weird dude, but, lately, he’s been taking his eccentricity to a whole other level. Where do we begin? Well, he came out earlier this year to announce that he was working on material for the new Madonna album, but he then noted that Madge has been on a “downward slide” since her debut record – and he was hired to fix that. Madonna’s manager Guy Oseary then returned the volley with guns blazing on Twitter to say that Madonna has never heard of Mr. Pink and she “has no interest in working with mermaids.” So there was one potential big-name opportunity blown.
But then Canadian musician Grimes, who it should be noted is Pink's label mate, shot back at his dismissal of Madonna’s post-1983 output saying on Twitter that his “delusional misogyny is emblematic of the kind of bullshit everyone woman in this industry faces daily.” (Question: how does merely expressing a preference or an opinion about the quality of someone’s artistic material have anything to do with their being a woman or misogyny in general?) So Pink recently hit back at Grimes in an interview with The Guardian by saying that she is “completely stupid and retarded.” (Okay, so now that may be getting into misogyny territory.)
But wait, there’s more! In the same interview, Pink called his record deal with 4AD “a joke” in front of a representative from the label, no less. And, of course, it turns out that Pink has gone public with rather eyebrow-raising comments, saying that he appreciates the Westboro Baptist Church (“they’re free-speech advocates”) and adores pedophiles “like Jesus loved pedophiles. I don’t love them specifically. Does it make me a pedophile to love pedophiles?”
Sheesh. Foot in mouth much, Ariel?
In any case, Pink has a new album, a double LP, that he’s foisting on the public sans his backing group Haunted Graffiti. The record encompasses the range of emotions that we would come to expect from him. There are oddball moments (“Dinosaur Carebears”), sexual misadventures (“Black Ballerina”), and even flashes of poignancy (the middle-aged person looking down the road to death in the haunting “Picture Me Gone”). It hangs together, though, remarkably well, creating a sprawl that is almost on the level of his 2010 Haunted Graffiti record Before Today. pom pom flows from one ebb to the other, and has more than its share of “I can’t get this outta my head” numbers. It’s a pure pop flourish, one that comes with a sense of the whimsy (see the animal noises made on “Exile on Frog Street”). As a mirror to Pink’s psyche, it’s a pretty disturbing one at times – “Black Ballerina” is a narrative of a grandfather taking his teenaged grandson to a LA strip club, which is creepy in and of itself, only to get tossed when the young lad dares to touch a stripper’s breasts.
So Pink’s brand of humor, if you want to call it that, might not be to all tastes, but those who dare to entertain it and aren’t put off by a warped musical mind will really come to enjoy pom pom. The album is on form between Before Today and 2012’s not quite as successful and yet still endearing Mature Themes. Yes, there is the standard for Ariel song about food here with “Jell-o”, which, in pure Pink fashion, is actually quite gross: “I, I, I eat Jell-o / I, I, I eat corn / I, I, I eat Jell-o / Before I was an embryo / That’s why I was born.” However, as much as pom pom is yet another distillation of particular themes and sounds that are no strangers to the Pink palette, there’s something really interesting at work here. While Pink’s music could be characterized as glam, there are moments on this record where he’s seemingly channelling David Bowie’s early ‘70s muse. In fact, “Four Shadows” hits the ear in the exact same way that Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie sort of does, just with a more psychedelic bent. My God, Pink almost is a dead ringer for Bowie here that your impression, if you were handed this on a CD-R without any artist information, you might think that it was a lost Bowie track -- well, if you can look past the “Oi! Oi! Oi!” background vocals.
However, pom pom is stylistically diverse without that getting in the way of things. “Not Enough Violence” could have quite easily come out at some point in the New Romanticism of the early ‘80s, while “Put Your Number in My Phone” is almost pastoral British pop. “Plastic Raincoats in the Pig Parade”, the opening number, culls from bubblegum pop of the ‘60s, and there are a few ‘70s arena rock touches that reference Todd Rundgren. This last touchpoint is interesting, because Pink is as much of (if not more so) an iconoclast as Rundgren was during that dodgy mid-‘70s phase where he was dropping acid and letting his indulgences come to the fore. However, unlike Rundgren, Pink generally sidesteps touches that could be characterized as pretentious. Listening to Pom Pom is like listening to 1974’s double album Todd, just without the sonic instrumental squalor. The former has the latter’s catchy tunes, novelty songs, and bizarro sound effects. Pom Pom is the album I wish Todd could have been if some of the bloat was excised.
The ultimate point, though, is that pom pom is record that is likable. While it may not match the best songs on Before Today, pom pom is arguably the most consistent-sounding thing that Pink has released, even if it is stylistically over the map. Though there’s a variety of things going on, every piece feels calculated to be part of a whole, a remarkable feat considering this album’s more than one hour running time. I hope that pom pom leaves the impression that Pink is a master of his muse, and that he’s firing on all cylinders here. This is up there with his very best work, even if there’s nothing as insanely hooky as “Round and Round”.
While Pink appears to be currently on some kind of self-destructive PR campaign, one cannot deny that pom pom is gorgeous and silly – sometimes both at the same time. It is a masterstroke of sorts, and Pink has really achieved a pinnacle. Sure, sometimes his mouth may get the better of him in interviews, but, as an artist, he is fundamental in hewing the psychedelic-pop sound of yesterday and bringing it to life as a modern twist. While the Material Girl may not know of him (or so she says through management), anyone who appreciates music skewed to the inane should be a cheerleader for this album and its particular brand of perverse pop. Wave those pom poms wildly.