The world of art has faced a longing question since art itself began – a problem that pestered even the ancient Greeks. How far is art its own individual and detached product, free from its creator? From Wagner to Chris Brown, H.P. Lovecraft to Charles Dickens, Woody Allen to Roman Polanski the question occurs again and again. How does the artist impact their art, and in turn the audience’s response to it? To resurrect this ever-lasting debate, Ariel Pink has reappeared with his latest album, and with it, his usual storm of controversy.
With the recent angst-filled comments by Sun Kil Moon towards the War on Drugs, amongst various other current ‘feuds’, perhaps Ariel Pink (née Rosenberg) saw the chance to gain some attention by becoming a part of this apparently new trend of speaking out against various artists and capitalised upon it. Pink seems to be attacking pop from the inside, with Grimes and Madonna falling prey to his spiteful contempt, yet this side of Pink is relegated in his playful and outlandish persona. Jimmy Savile and Rwandan genocide jokes aren’t to be found here, rather a cutesy, psychedelic persona who’d rather sing about Jell-o.
On the whole, the aesthetic sweetness provides some fantastic moments of pop through an ironic chillwave filter, but its irregularity fails to scratch the itch of what should have been a fully-formed, conceptual work. The varying styles across Pom Pom bring another question to the fold: Is Pink paying homage to or simply parodying these styles that he invokes? It is difficult to understand what he is trying to achieve by jumping between various pop subgenres but what is clear is that the sound being emulated is that of the not too distant past. Perhaps this mocking of the somewhat the sounds of 80’s pop comes from the same place that inspired his comments against Madonna. But why satirise this outdated time in favour of what could have been a more biting criticism of current pop?
Nonetheless, Pink’s expert song-craft re-emerges on Pom Pom. The tight arrangements of ‘Put Your Number In My Phone’, the harmonic album closer and the disco beats of tracks such as ‘White Freckles’ highlight the artist’s genuine ability to create memorable and charming pop tunes; a fact that causes less fully-formed tracks such as ‘Jell-o’ and ‘Dinosaur Carebears’ to come off as rather irritating and ridiculous. Furthermore, on the odd occasion when Pink’s real life alter-ego bleeds into Pom Pom’s sound, things take a turn for the creepy. Lines like “Penetration time tonight” come off as less daringly funny and more in line with the “I love paedophiles” Ariel Pink that only inspires disdain.
Throughout ‘Pom Pom’, one feels as if Rosenberg is looking down on the listener (as well as his allotted genre as a whole) with a smirk on his face. Irony is taken and abused to the point of indulgence, creating an album that cannot be distanced from its creator, whether that be due to the fact that its creator is the misogynistic, “most hated man in indie rock“, or simply because Rosenberg’s joking presence emanates from all corners of his music.