Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Mature Themes

DOUG WALLEN ventures into Ariel Pink’s world of cracked-mirror pop brilliance and crowns the mad (and maddening) songwriter as “the king of uneven”.

Two years after Before Today and the single ‘Round and Round’ made freaky ol’ Ariel Pink a crossover proposition at last, its follow-up overflows with both the man’s effortless pop talents and characteristic outsider whimsy. You could even almost take the title of Mature Themes to heart on the strength of the first few songs, despite their madcap verve. Then again, this is an album that salutes the almighty schnitzel before jumping the shark roughly at the moment Pink intones, “Giddy up girl”, followed by a whip crack on the sexuality-and-Dr Mario-musing ‘Symphony of the Nymph’. After that, it takes a slow-motion nosedive.

Make no mistake: it’s ridiculous from the start. It’s just that it’s great at the same time, with Pink’s band nailing his channel-surfing tangents while keeping right on the forward momentum. Opener ‘Kinski Assassin’ is the first of many silver-tongued larks, an unhinged ramble of daydream wordplay. ‘Is This the Best Spot’ plays at being Devo but does it well, making the title track feel weirdly heartfelt next to it. These are killer songs, and their stubborn, reference-anything-and-everything silliness is a key part of that. Best of all is the single ‘Only in My Dreams’, lovely and moody and very ready to depart from its introductory 12-string jangle into a tangle of overlapped vocals and sighing bleariness.

“These are killer songs, and their stubborn, reference-anything-and-everything silliness is a key part of that”

After the comparatively more disposable (and thus aptly named) ‘Driftwood’, ‘The Early Birds of Babylon’ is another structural oddity like ‘Round and Round’. At first it seems like simply a curdled exaggeration of psych shadows of the past – and wouldn’t that be enough? – but eventually it breaks out a bubbly leftfield chorus that reminds us why we’re listening to Pink in the first place. Not just for the glam-stoked eccentricities, but for the cracked-mirror pop brilliance.

Then, though, it all up and falls apart. ‘Schnitzel Boogie’ starts fine and funny but runs out of puff long before it finishes. ‘Symphony of the Nymph’ is catchy yet somehow less convincing, while the gleefully noxious fumes of ‘Pink Slime’ confirm the unravelling momentum. From there, ‘Farewell, American Primitive’ is again stream-of-consciousness riffing and ‘Live It Up’ is close to see-through. Its almost as if Pink and his great band can’t keep up the ideas being generated. The seven-minute ‘Nostradamus and Me’ is more winding, diaphanous business, worth sitting through only to reach ‘Baby’ – an obscure soul cover featuring Dam-Funk that’s more restrained and more sincere, or at least Pink’s version of it.

Uneven? Definitely. But what else were you expecting? Pink is the king of uneven.