My grandmother used to use the phrase – “Oohh, he’s a bit of a one.” It was particularly prevalent whilst we ate egg and chips and watched Top of the Pops of an evening. Jarvis Cocker – “Oohh, he’s a bit of a one.” Liam Gallagher – “Oohh, look at him with his eyebrows, he’s a bit of a one.” Courtney Love – “Oohh, she’s a bit of a one. *Tut*, could’ve washed her hair.” Keith Flint was met with stunned silence. She was more of a snooker fan, really.
Ariel Pink garners a similar baffled, furrowed brow in me. Discovered making lo-fi 80s pop on a cassette recorder in the Los Angeles hills by Animal Collective, he was acclaimed as king of LA’s underground scene, anointed as the new DIY Frank Zappa and lauded for the twisted melodies and all round strangeness of album Before Today (2010). The most quotable new star in years, he has made a number of questionable ponderings on gay marriage, race and politics and even once stated “I love paedophiles too, and I love necrophiliacs.”Hurrah, a mad genius rock brat with an ego the size of China, thought some. What a douchebag, thought others.
Fresh from starting a feud with Madonna by claiming she had asked him to sort out her ailing career, Pink’s new album Pom Pom comes at a time when the 36-year-old is no longer considered the mould-breaking, boy wonder and seems to be hated by half the music industry. His response is to shrug his shoulders, carry on his contrary old way and deliver a record as idiosyncratic, trashy, camp and startlingly ridiculous as could be imagined. It’s a career collecting opus of kitsch freak-pop that gives the Ariel Pink treatment to soft rock, psychedelic surf, TV jingles and robotic, retro electro.
Like a low-budget soundtrack to John Waters’ most insane imaginings, it’s a celebration of crass, tacky bad taste that includes songs about a boy being taken to a strip club by his grandfather (Black Ballerina), voice mail messages from his therapist and strutting tales of sleazy, pimpish swagger. Opener Plastic Raincoats in the Pig Parade sets the tone with a carnival tune of candy floss melodies, Willy Wonka weirdness and garish fairground hubbub that is as unsettlingly as a trip to Pee-Wee Herman’s Playhouse.
White Freckles shifts us into a car chase scene from Nightrider with flashing LCD lights and arcade game ambience before a hand break turn into a smoke machine fog of Spinal Tap rawk ballads and spandex clad theatrics that culminates in a Scorpions-like Halloween spectacular on Four Shadows. The magpie-ing of tacky gift stores and thrift shops continues on Put Your Number In My Phone, whilst Nude Beach A-Go-Go is a bonkers-genius theme tune to a 60s version of Happy Days and Baywatch set on Venice Beach, and Sexual Athletics is a pervy, Blaxsploitation groove as if performed by Screech from Saved By The Bell.
It’s all a smirking, vaudeville collection of absurdist oddball pop that feels like Daniel Johnston, Robert Smith and Barbara Cartland making a mix-tape for Anna Nicole Smith. His weirdness and outsider thinking should be celebrated and his role as a pop antagonist that plays the cartoon villain completely embraced – we need crazies to push buttons and wind Madonna up. And, hell he could well be the millennials answer to Captain Beefheart for all I know. Problem is, it’s all completely unlistenable. Lord knows what my Grandmother would have made of him.