Ariel Pink has always been a relatively large cult figure in music, but it seems like his presence—and not necessarily a positive one—has been especially visible as of late. The recent onstage breakdowns, misogynistic online comments, and hints at mental illness have all overshadowed the release of his newest album, pom pom, simultaneously building up its current, almost mythical status. Some may argue that because of his recent behavior, it’s an album not even worth listening to and even the music itself separate from the artist will just as likely cause divisive opinions.
Ariel Pink’s first proper solo album apart from Haunted Graffiti, pom pom’s contents are as stylistically diverse as the degree of success is varying. Across the span of a double album, the songs range from fully formed and melodically beautiful songs like “Put Your Number In My Phone” to throwaways and what seems like jokes like “Jell-o.” The songs cover such a broad stroke of styles including psychedelic, hard rock, wistful indie pop and ’80s New Romanticism that every single listener of this album will possibly have their own favorite tracks, but undoubtedly there are songs here that work better overall than others.
There are plenty of glimpses of his usual genius here like “Plastic Raincoats In The Pig Parade” and “Picture Me Gone,” but it’s undeniable there’s so much filler, it’s not enough to fill a double album. The stronger selections could have easily made one stellar single album, but it’s as if after he finished recording, everything was included instead of paring it down. Some of the best songs here invariably become buried and lost because of the inclusion of fun and silly yet unnecessary songs like “Negativ Ed.”
Another thing relatively special about the album worth noting is that two of its songs, “Exile On Frog Street” and “Nude Beach A Go-Go,” were written expressly for Ariel Pink by Kim Fowley, most famous for managing The Runaways. The latter song was also recorded separately by Azealia Banks (produced by Pink) and is a strange surf rock parody, more reminiscent of Fowley’s ’60s novelty songs like “Alley Oop” than anything by The Runaways. Incidentally, Banks also appears on pom pom doing backup vocal duty.
In the end, pom pom is an album that would have passed by relatively unnoticed if not for the surrounding controversy stemming from Ariel Pink. There are bright moments here, even brilliant, but it’s not enough to warrant multiple listens without at least skipping over one track or two.
In A Word: Uneven