Accompanying their own review of this very album in the latest issue of Uncut magazine is a brief Q&A with its creator during which he guesstimates that, at this point in his career, approximately 500,000 people worldwide may be familiar with his music. Assuming he’s correct, that would mean there are roughly quarter of a million people across the globe who probably think that Ariel Pink is either a complete dick or, even worse, a joke; because the L.A. maverick is one of the most divisive artists of the past decade, inspiring extreme levels of devotion or disdain (and often – in the space of a few songs – both) with every move. Recordings – of which there are literally hundreds -and live performances can be inspired or disastrous depending on his mood on the day; a great tune is often wilfully buried under crappy lo-fi production, or a bad idea hammered to death, whilst he’s just as likely to walk off-stage after five minutes (or stay up there and play out a full-scale breakdown) as he is to send a crowd home satisfied. Luckily, by now fans know to expect the unexpected; even the staunchest of supporters will admit to feeling less than enthusiastic about certain sections of Pink’s catalogue, and Mature Themes (the second LP to be recorded with his backing band Haunted Graffiti and released on the iconic 4AD label) is sure to split opinion in the same way. After the relatively poppy Before Today, here we find Pink back in experimental mode, mashing together synth-pop, pastoral psychedelia, glam, prog and gothic rock with all kinds of surreal lyrical imagery, and whilst a handful of tracks – the romantic “Only In My Dreams” (below), 8-bit symphony “Live It Up”, the XTC-esque title track – tick the same “parallel universe chart hit” boxes as favourites like “Round & Round“, they are surrounded by schizoid jams like “Early Birds Of Babylon”, “Schnitzel Boogie” and “Symphony Of The Nymph” that better recall the self-indulgent DIY aesthetic of older albums like Worn Copy. It’s not as messy as it sounds, though. Perhaps as a result of having a proper producer (Cole M. Grief-Neill) and an impressively tight band to curb his more excessive tendencies, this blitzkrieg of contrasting styles, tones and tempos actually gels together into a surprisingly cohesive and flab-free whole; “Kinski Assassin”, for example, may sound like a series of acid flashbacks recounted over the theme tune to some ’70s kids’ TV show (recorded in the ’70s, by kids), but it works. There’s even room for some previously unexplored musical ground, with the throbbing, seven minute-long ambient bliss-out “Nostradamus And Me” and a surprisingly sensual cover of Donnie and Joe Emerson’s obscure soul nugget “Baby”, featuring fellow Los Angeleno Dam Funk, showcasing a hitherto uncovered contemplative (and, dare we say, mature) side to Pink’s personality. There’s still plenty here to support public perception of the singer as some kind of sociopathic idiot savant, but there’s also enough variety to convert a few haters or convince newcomers of his twisted genius; featuring every shade of Pink – from lo-fi experiments to pop perfection – Mature Themes is the most fully-realized work yet from one of indie rock’s most consistently intriguing artists.
Mature Themes is out August 21 on 4AD