Ariel Pink’s new LP finds him sentimental, as gross as ever

Somehow, Ariel Pink is always getting compared to the late (and not so great) Frank Zappa. As one may or may not know, Zappa built his long-running career on avant-garde ditties, fart-noise symphonies and general indulgences into the realms of bathroom-humor comedy. While Pink is no stranger to kitsch, his similarities with Zappa begin and end there. If there’s anything in his discography to prove his sincerity, it is his new record, “Dedicated to Bobby Jameson.”

On “Dedicated…,” one encounters more themes of maturation than we do the “Mature Themes” of his earlier work. Detached and cynical of excess, Pink returns occasionally to the wacked-out abrasivity of “pom pom”  (“Bubblegum Dreams,” “Time to Meet Your God”), but is mostly touch-and-go on genres as if he were perusing his own discography from the last 14 years. “Another Weekend” and “Do Yourself a Favor” are a breath of fresh air, with Pink forgoing his usual lo-fi sheen for open, woody acoustics and sentimentality. The song structures of this album are much more conventional, allowing for a greater focus on Pink’s emotional states rather than his intellection. Tracks like “Feels like Heaven” and “Revenge of the Iceman” display the sonic variety: Pink trying on his sweetest and his most ripping sides.

Lyrically, Pink grapples with aging, temporality and depression. “I Wanna Be Young” has Pink openly mourning his loss of youth, singing directly to his millennial audience: “you’re gonna cry when you hit my age.” “Time to Live” has Pink ironically drawing on teenage angst to reject the passing of time, eventually accepting his fate: “my playing in the wind is over.” At his most vulnerable on “Another Weekend,” Pink’s emotional health is so tumultuous that a single bad weekend might “get him into trouble.”

Pink also continues in his tradition of writing songs about sleazy Los Angeles characters with “Dreamdate Narcissist,” “Death Patrol” and of course the titular character, “Bobby Jameson.” These fictional narratives are in some sense autobiographical (as with all art), but Pink’s comedic edge — “She sent for my Uber ‘cause she wanted some dick” — and non-sequiturs — “Hoobastank Hoobastank… Swim, walk and swag” —  avoid the pitfalls of overly confessional lyricism.

Besides this album’s mediocre filler tracks (“Santa’s in the Closet,” “Kitchen Witch” and the strange Dâm-Funk collab “Acting”), the album fails most when Pink’s confusion and crises erode the identity of the songs. It’s no secret that Pink is a problematic figure in the music world. His antics and misogyny are occasionally front page material for Pitchfork — no small feat — and some of this worms its way into the album. For example, “I Wanna Be Young” features the lyric “Just need a young cunt / That’s possibly tight / I know it’s dumb / But I wanna be young.” Beyond the hypersexist nature of a man referring to a vagina in such vulgar terms, it feels as if Pink is choosing crude thrills over personal reflection.

Are we supposed to take these lines as a soliloquy from a depraved character? Are we to understand it as Pink being honest about his own sexist, youth-obsessed tendencies? Either way, it isn’t pretty to look at. Pink understands “the importance of being earnest” in a way that Zappa couldn’t, but he hasn’t fully reconciled his demented past with the openness he now pursues.

 

7.3 / 10

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