Pom Pom, Ariel Pink’s recently released double album on the British label 4AD, is an amalgamation of slick pop tunes spanning the sonic spectrum, including elements of synth-drenched new wave and scuzzy post-punk, mixed with easygoing soft rock.
Over the course of 17 songs, it is clear that Ariel Pink has a lot to say in his classic nihilistic, self-deprecating and creepily lustful manner. Leaving the Haunted Graffiti moniker behind, Pink shows once more his tremendous ability to craft a wide array of catchy pop songs, perverting the very notion of pop music at every turn.
While billed as a solo act on Pom Pom, Pink collaborates with legendary producer Kim Fowley, among other musicians, throughout the album.
Beginning with “Plastic Raincoats in the Pig Parade,” a psychedelic romp that occasionally sounds like a carnival, Pink establishes his heavy use of metaphor and vocabulary, a theme which continues throughout the album.
On the dark, bass-heavy “Not Enough Violence,” he sings: “Time is up your doomsday clock sealed / Carry the cross, boy, and make your bed / In a place where all is unknown / Face behind the mask of the sky / Halfway spinning to a better place / In the body of a man mind of a girl.” It’s dark, existential stuff, but what’s most shocking about it all is that the rest of the song is ostensibly about a “body farm.”
Pink is somewhat of an untrustworthy narrator both in his songs and in interviews, but he invites his listeners to join him in his freak show world nonetheless.
It doesn’t all sound so dark and foreboding, however. The prerelease single “Put Your Number In My Phone” is still as much of a jam as it was when it was first released. It’s lackadaisical, dreamy pop-making and a staple of lovelorn playlists for years to come.
Honestly, nearly every song on Pom Pom is completely listenable on its own, making Pom Pom feel almost like a greatest-hits collection of perverted pop ballads and psychedelic tunes.
While the music is almost universally pleasing, lyrically Pink can come across both as the creepy uncle and as the uncle that always told the best jokes. At this point in the album you have to decide if you think Pink is funny, if you hate him for calling fellow 4AD artist Grimes “stupid and retarded,” and if you think he’s a mysoginist based on his lyrics.
He’s divisive, that’s for sure— and he knows it. It’s hard to separate the irony from the man, and at times it’s unclear if there is an ironic shell at all. On the bass-driven “Sexual Athletics,” Pink jokes: “Let’s go to the emotional Olympics!” only to be met with a chorus of boos. The boastful first half of “Sexual Athletics” then dissolves into a lo-fi psychedelic plea: “All I ever wanted was a girlfriend all of my life.”
His almost pedophilic humor balanced by his lovesick yearning is a constant conflict throughout the album. Take the bouncy “Black Ballerina” for example, wherein we overhear conversations about a boy’s first visit to “the number one strip club in L.A.” The creepiness of the whole thing is undercut by one of the catchiest choruses in recent memory, another successful attempt in misdirection by Pink on the album.
Pom Pom once again proves that Ariel Pink is the king of perverted-pop, as he crafts a versatile assortment of styles and genres into something that is both memorable and distinctly Ariel Pink throughout.
Pom Pom is an album that is incredibly easy and fun to listen to, considering its hour-long running time, and is definitely worth a listen if you can stomach who Ariel Pink presents himself to be.