Review Summary: Come Ask Me About My Career Tomorrow, and You Shall Find Me a Grave Man
Just what is it that gets up people's noses with Ariel Pink? If ever there's an artist in 2017 with a permanent 'kick me' note affixed to his back it's this man; he's treated like the 'office party animal' who turns up every Friday with a different wacky tie. Yes, the collective groan is audible. There's a feeling Pink's attempting the same joke on repeat, and that there's a general lack of authenticity to the dude. Nowt worse than fake fun, or a phoney freak. This is the way it goes down today for any artist operating in the genres of kitsch pop, novelty retro and lo-fi bedroom tape experimentalism; you choose this approach then mainstream success isn't just unexpected, it's actively opposed. Almost instantly Pink faced accusations of being a copy cat, some of downright plagiarism. A lot of wrinkled noses and sniffy sniping along the lines of 'he's just ripping off John Maus'. All in all, it's been more than a little tiresome.
It seems Ariel is all too aware of the fickle nature of the music industry, the album's title being a typical example of his dark sense of humour. The late Bobby Jameson was a failed singer who fell pray to alcoholism and an all consuming bitterness in his later years, bitching and revenge blogging to his ultimate end. Pink has tasted the success this man craved and soon realised it's not all that it's cracked up to be and could yet prove equally fleeting in the long run. In recent interviews Pink has admitted the industry makes his job a bit of a bummer and has even taken the edge of his passion. On this, his second solo release since he disbanded his Haunted Graffiti band, this cynicism shows. What's strange is that against all common logic it actually makes for a more appealing overall listen. If 2014'd 'Pom Pom' found the artist operating at his wildly scattershot extremes, this album zeroes in on a more consistent tone and reaps the rewards.
The tone he settles on is more mellow and reflective, and it's a look that really suits him. Is this music as stripped back and au naturale his pre release photos which surprisingly revealed Ariel now minus pink hair and associated garb? Not quite, but it's still obvious enough to those who've followed his music over the years. Sure, 'Dedicated to Bobby J...'s still packed with the sort of addictive pop nuggets we've come to expect, only they sound a little more restrained than usual. They're still unlikely to make any mainstream radio playlist any time soon of course; 'Feels Like Heaven', 'Another Weekend' 'I Wanna Be Young' and the title track are the most conventional tunes here, all excellent in their own way, but in each case there's an element too damn Pink for mass appeal. In the case of '...Bobby Jameson' the risqué use of the 'T' word has already been greeted with outrage in some quarters; within the song it's a historical reference ye gods, he was never referred to in those days as 'a Tinseltown man who's within his rights to wear women's clothes and make-up and whose choices I understand and respect'. This is Ariel Pink, a man partial to some dress up himself, there'll be no whitewash on an album this damn pink, thankfully. Let's move on.
It's most pleasing of all to report that the trademark AP surreal numbers are particularly strong here, conjuring up a by turns paranoid and resigned feel. There's a morbid obsession with the passing of time and an underlying mournful air to songs like 'Time to Live', 'Do Yourself a Favor' and 'Death Patrol' that affords them an uncanny depth. Elsewhere the swirling head-trip 'Santa's in the Closet' recalls previous classic 'Fright Night' and is an early highlight, while the straight-ahead retro rockers 'Bubblegum Dreams' and 'Dreamdate Narcissist' make for a welcome mid album sweetener. It's not wall to wall perfection all the way but I'll be damned if this doesn't feel like the closest this man has ever come to such an accolade.
The album signs off with a hidden track that plays out as a thank you from Pink to those who've supported him, one I'm interpreting as heartfelt. The scales of acclaim may be balanced somewhere in the middle for Ariel, he'll always have his fair share of non believers, but this isn't a man you could ever accuse of lacking self awareness. He's released a really exceptional album here, probably his very best, and yet a lot of people won't give it a try. He understands all that, and he's at peace with it too. After all, he could oh so easily have been another Bobby fucking Jameson.