Ariel Pink - Dedicated To Bobby Jameson
- Released: 15 September, 2017
- Label: Mexican Summer
Ariel explores some mature themes - death, disappointment and time - whilst dialling back the zaniness (to an extent) and returning to home recording.
As the title says, the album is devoted to Bobby Jameson, elusive and eccentric Los Angeles singer-songwriter who had an early brush with fame and spent the rest of his life recovering from the trauma. Long presumed dead even by connoisseurs of L.A. freaks, Jameson began blogging in 2007 to tell his tale. Ariel only discovered Jameson after his death in 2015 and clearly feels a genuine kinship, although his media comments suggest he has a pretty bulletproof and hard-won cynicism when it comes to fame these days, actively avoiding the controversy he has so gleefully stirred up during the last couple of promotional cycles.
The album cover has some similarity to breakthrough album Before Today – both feature a small sinister looking figure in the background, but on Dedicated to Bobby Jameson, it is Ariel himself, sneaking into a graveyard to visit Jameson, whose headstone is illuminated with Ariel’s trademark pink. The cover and the promotion perhaps plays into the idea that this is a concept album. It isn’t – it’s a pretty sincere gesture of recognition, admiration and sympathy from Ariel to Jameson but doesn’t function as an overarching concept for the song writing. Perhaps Ariel feels that could have been how things would have turned out for him if he had stumbled across a genuine shot at the big time at an early age – however unlikely that may have been. Apart from the title track, none of the songs seem to contain any implicit message about the story of the album’s dedicatee, and it’s no doubt to the album’s benefit that it doesn’t get distracted with a single all-encompassing theme.
Almost every song references life, death, time, dreams or heaven. Opener Time to Meet Your God stomps around shouting its own name and threatening us with facing the firing squad. Feels Like Heaven was an initial favourite on the record, Ariel returning to his Cure obsession (“There I go again/Falling in love again”), with anxious lyrics about trying to make it work out somehow, this time… Some gorgeous backing vocals (from Charlotte Lindèn Ercoli Coe) elevate the dreaminess even further so that when the title phrase bursts out of the short slow-down in the pre-chorus it nails that archetypal moment of melodic abandon that are scattered across his greatest songs. The video for the song is comically literal, with Pink lying dazed in daydreams on his bed (flicking through his phone), as it flies through the clouds.
Four songs – Dedicated to Bobby Jameson, Time To Live, Another Weekend and I Wanna Be Young – run together in the middle of the album which are as strong a suite of tunes Ariel has put together on any previous album. They all deal in some way with the passing, and wasting, of time, youth, talent, love, and pretty much anything you could ever value. They’re also individually brilliant psychedelic lo-fi pop songs, with the title track starting off as the Monkees and somehow ending with a Riders on the Storm-esque jam fade-out. Time To Live is something of a sister track to the opener, before it eventually breaks into a sci-fi glam-rock hoedown. Another Weekend is another dorkily lovelorn classic, to be filed alongside Put Your Number In My Phone from Pom-Pom and Only In My Dreams from Mature Themes, with Ariel sighing about being “too shy or too humble”… I Wanna Be Young is a rerecording of a far older song that pulls off his trick of marrying melodies that sound sickly-sweet at first and hyper-addictive soon after (also featuring some truly unhinged “doo-do-do-do DOO DOOs”).
The final third of the album contains a couple of songs I could personally probably live without (Bubblegum Dreams and Dreamdate Narcissist) before another highlight in Kitchen Witch, a kind of Duran Duran/My Bloody Valentine hybrid, again benefitting from Charlotte’s sweet and hazy vocals. The digital release also has an extra track – Revenge of the Iceman – which seems to channel the UK Oi! punk genre circa 1980 complete with Cockney accent.
It feels like every Ariel Pink album since 2011’s breakthrough Before Today has been billed as a return to his early weirdo lo-fi roots. Since this is the first LP on Mexican Summer as opposed to relative big-shots 4AD, it felt more plausible. A quick to listen to Worn Copy or Doldrums, however, reminds you of how otherworldly and actually low fidelity those recordings were. Dedicated To Bobby Jameson doesn’t, and could never, retrieve or relive the feeling of his pre-famous(ish) days – despite covering the one song here written from then – I Wanna Be Young. Perhaps the key song on the album really, as Pink’s trademark inversion of irony and sincerity hits him, and us, full in the face.