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Ariel Pink returns this week with his follow-up to 2014’s bombastic Pom Pom, on which his weirdo-pop wildness hit thrilling new levels of excess. Where does he go next? And who exactly is Bobby Jameson, the inspiration behind this eleventh album? Miles Bowe delves into a record that connects the dots between different eras in the Los Angeleno’s career.
Over the last decade, Ariel Pink his shifted his lo-fi glam-rock from public access TV graininess to big screen weirdo-pop. By his last album, 2014’s IMAX-sized Pom Pom, the transition felt complete: from his beginnings as Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, he emerged simply Ariel Pink, the manic leader of a chaotic pop machine. The result was a career-best album of peak intense lunacy and ambition.
Dedicated To Bobby Jameson, the LA native’s latest full-length, finds him balancing both eras of his career, while glancing to the future. The obscure ‘60s musician to whom the album is dedicated is key: cult LA artist Jameson crossed paths with The Rolling Stones, recorded with Frank Zappa and opened for The Beach Boys, but never got his break. 10 years ago, prior to his death in 2015, the artist told how “the pursuit of fame is as deadly as any narcotic I have ever used” in a written history of his career. Which is quite a statement coming from a guy twice pronounced dead after drug overdoses.
It’s easy to see why Pink would be fascinated. Jameson’s exactly the sort of outsider figure he has been drawn to and invited into his world throughout his career, from collaborations with R. Stevie Moore and Kim Fowley to Dâm-Funk and Germs drummer and LA hero Don Bolles, who drummed for him on tour for Pom Pom. But Jameson died in 2015 before Pink discovered him. Instead of collaboration, his story haunts an album that paints both gleeful cartoons and sobering portraits of mortality, addiction and fame.
This heaviness is evident right from the go. Opener ‘Time To Meet Your God’ follows Pink’s protagonist as he’s “reborn into life out of death”, surrounding him with crashing drums and surging organs that pick up right from Pom Pom’s elastic bubblegum-prog. The album then 180s into the sparkling single ‘Feels Like Heaven’. The track’s head-over-heels romanticism and sunny guitar pop is classic Pink, something he points out with acidic self-awareness (“there I go again/falling in love again”). But as he wearily observes how he’s “been down that road before/every sign post that I ignore/gotta make it work out some way,” the mood gives way to serious reflection, shifting from self-destructive to hopeful. Its hook hits like a fresh breeze.
This contrast is constant throughout Dedicated To Bobby Jameson. Its title track is a ‘60s psych-rock nostalgia trip, but is tinged with the wistfulness of real nostalgia. ‘Another Weekend’, meanwhile, is soothed by softly chiming synths and gentle strums of acoustic guitar as Pink looks back on “another weekend I can’t rewind”. The track’s soft psychedelic swirl blurs the line of whether Pink is really looking back at lost weekend or simply predicting the next one, and it makes a simple line like “another day not workin’ for me” as devastating as when he first observed on Worn Copy that “life in LA is so lonely”.
Such sensitivity might feel at odds with Pink’s knack for insensitivity in interviews: while promoting Pom Pom, offensive, misogynist soundbites came thick and fast, earning the musician a list of enemies that included Grimes and Madonna. In interviews around this record, he has sounded weary and reserved by comparison, insisting he doesn’t want attention or care about releasing records anymore. Mostly he talks about Jameson.
Weary and reserved aren’t phrases that could be levelled at Dedicated To Bobby Jameson, but it certainly bears a sense of reflection. The album’s final lyric comes during the curtain call mutant-funk of Dâm-Funk collaboration ‘Acting’ – a satisfied cry of “happy ending!” Given his track record for turning fantasy into reality, he has reason to be optimistic: nearly a decade ago, on the song that made his career the 39-year-old instructed himself to “write the songs that say ‘I like that!'” and like them a now-mighty legion of fans did. Dedicated To Bobby Jameson by turn feels like the start of a new chapter in the saga of Ariel Pink. And while he’s still following his iconic mantra from ‘Round and Round’ to the letter, it sounds like he’s been thinking about another lyric too: “and we die and we live and we’re born again.”
Miles Bowe is on Twitter