Available on: 4AD LP
As a fully paid-up member of the Ariel Pink fan club, I feel bad writing this review. The greatest pop songwriter that the underground’s seen for years (name someone better, and more prolific, in the last decade), his last album, Before Today, saw him sign to an established label for the first time in 4AD, a label that led this lo-fi lunatic loose in a studio (the majority of Pink’s music, until then, had been home recorded).
In an interview with FACT at the time of Before Today’s release, Pink admitted that he found the process “counter-intuitive to me … It wasn’t only about having a studio. It was also about having a band and a producer. It’s not like I just fall out of bed and record a track like I did before.” And although I admire 4AD’s approach – on the surface, it’s more interesting to sign Pink and take him out of his comfort zone than to just release another home recorded release – the move has, for me, at least, coincided with his least interesting music to date.
The studio, however, seems too easy a scapegoat. Most people who’ve seen Ariel Pink live will vouch for his ability to frustrate, and even his greatest albums feature moments where Pink appeals sidetracked. But I’ve never heard a release where Pink sounds as distant and insincere as on Mature Themes. ‘Kinski Assassin’, the record’s opening track, is Quirky-with-a-capital-Q pop at its most stupid and pointless, lines about “blowjobs of death” and all. It belongs in a Butlin’s holiday camp, and it’s so fucking knowing that you want to punch it in the face. Even then, it’s probably less annoying than ‘Is this the Best?’, with its call-and-response of “G-spot!”, “H-bomb!”, and twee bumblebee guitar lines.
Yes, Pink’s always taken cues from cheese and plenty of his music has been tongue in cheek (see his 7” cover of Dean Friedman’s ‘Ariel’ for a successful example of both), but in the past he’s managed to make it sound beautiful and aching; it stays with you, where Mature Themes seems disposable. It’s only on the album’s magnificent title track and a few others (‘Only in my Dreams’, ‘Baby’) that Pink and his band play like they mean it, and you feel that the same feeling of loss that subtly defined records like The Doldrums is present. But that good work is overshadowed by tracks like ‘Early Birds of Babylon’, with its lengthy guitar tangents and atmosphere signalling nothing, the half-baked political non-discourse of ‘Farewell American Primitive’, and ‘Schnitzel Boogie’, the sound of a grown man pissing around with pickles on somebody else’s time and budget. Ultimately, the overall feeling of Mature Themes is of a band and songwriter that don’t really care. So why should we?