Ariel Pink has delivered the album Foxygen’s “… And Star Power” should have been. Freed of his backing band Haunted Graffiti (partially responsible for his previous outings, the generally acclaimed “Mature Themes” and “Before Today”), Pink provides a double-sided LP stuffed to the brim with inventive psych-pop and idiosyncratic incursions. “Pom Pom,” his newest solo album, is all unvarnished Pink; this is gonzo-pop, the kind of songs that would get massive play in some alternate universe where Archduke Ferdinand survives the assassination and goes on to win the Depression against Hunter S. Thompson and The Bee Gees.
Pink makes music for the man who likes his food tossed straight into the crock-pot; every music trend from the last 40 years is stirred into this album, baked in with Pink’s signature glossy AM pop coating and affectatious vocal mannerisms. At 17 songs and more than an hour long, how much the listener gets out of this album depends on whether they like their oddball humor by the bucketfull or the kiloton. Results may vary.
Album-opener “Plastic Raincoats in the Pig Parade” bounces along equal parts singalong and cloying pretension, like a cartoon theme song on a sugar rush. The track is interspliced with cassette tape hissing, adding to the surreal scene. “For Shadows,” meanwhile, feels like vintage mall goth; you can almost hear the eyeliner run down Pink’s face. “Lipstick” begins with a slowed down, atmospheric beginning that brings back memories of Macintosh+’s
“Floral Shoppe” LP, while “Nude Beach a Go-Go” (Yes. And that’s the song title. No, it’s not even the worst offender — hello, “Dinosaur Carebears”) is Pink’s take on Dick Dale-era surf-pop. “One Summer Night” twinkles with blissed-out reverb, ostensibly ripped straight from the summer of 2010, while “Not Enough Violence” is built extensively around new wave synths. That’s Pink’s appeal: His persistent crate-digging and dedication to the lost sounds of yesterday combine with eccentric humor to produce albums that are both firmly rooted in rock history and at the same time oddly futuristic.
Pink has always made it a point to wear his influences on his sleeve and here, with his sound cleaned up to maximum pop efficiency, he’s never sounded more indebted to them (“Exile on Frog Street” near-rips the climactic string section from The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” to much less effect). This album has drawn comparisons to Frank Zappa’s material, and it’s easy to see how. With the extended prostitute pirate bit in “Black Ballerina” (yup) and the often esoteric humor that’s laced throughout the album, this is an insular product, homage as much as it is parody.
That insularity is a double-edged sword; with himself as sole arbiter of what goes on and off the record, a few of the tracks can come across as indulgent or B-side worthy. And though the album more or less hangs well together, many of the skits that the tracks are built around, like the train sex bit from “Sexual Athletics” (double-yup) are hit or miss, or, in the case of the phone call from “Put your Number on my Phone”, border on tasteless. It’s just as easy for them (and by extension Pink) to come off as either endearing or grating. Perhaps most egregiously, while much of the album has a definite spark and an instant catchiness, nothing comes close to matching the overriding ear candy of some of his bigger hits, like “Before Today” highlight “Round and Round.”
These criticisms, however, do not ultimately overpower the record. “Pom Pom” straddles the line between reverential tribute and grave-robbing gimmickry. But Pink’s extensive attention to detail and genuine love of forgotten ‘70s soft rock peddlers results in a fascinating listen. With “Pom Pom,” Pink continues his string of solid albums, while pulling open the big tent just enough to let some new listeners check and see what all the fuss is about.
Rating: 3.5 stars