Chris Morris once did a great line in musical parody. Blouse were Pulp with a disturbing Mira Hindley obsession and Black Francis became Jet Black on Motherbanger, a perfect skewering of Pixies oedipal oeuvre. We’d thought though, that now he’s predominantly a film director, Morris’s mocking of the musical landscape was at an end. But how wrong we were. He’s just now calling himself Ariel Pink.
Mature Themes is career destruction in 13 tracks, a clutch of good songs stuffed in with laughable sketches and the just plain awful. Take the opening track – Kinski Assassin – which takes a great title and jams it onto a sabotaged piece of synth pop where the keyboard line and rolling bass are held hostage by laughable lyrics (“suicide dumplings dropping testicle bombs”) and Pink singing like David Byrne on ketamine.
Is This The Best Spot follows. 1:27 of the title and other fridge poetry lyrics (“sorry said the fanny to the head”) and an ’80s keyboard demo done badly. At this point, a machine dedicated to measuring the listener’s irritation would explode. Thankfully, it briefly gets a little better.
Mature Themes is the first moment that the record feels like something other than a joke, a coasting keyboard curio that recalls the quieter moments of XTC‘s back catalogue. Only In Dreams keeps up the standard with a beautiful guitar line recalling the Byrds and Pink bothering to actually sing.
The tribal drums opening Driftwood bode well but once again intriguing music is utterly hamstrung by Pink’s mumbled lyrical nonsense, epitomised by: “The bad breath of a cross-eyed goat/meeting children for a Monday morning.” Beck used similarly cut up and skewed images on Midnight Vultures, but his choices seemed intriguing rather than irritating. It’s a difficult line to tread, and one Pink falls off.
Early Birds Of Babylon is a great little slice of post-punk bass with an unsettling whistling low in the mix and the lyrics less easy to discern. The creepy tone is a welcome respite from Pink’s punishing lyrical lunacy and you can’t help but wish more of the record had a similar atmosphere to that whipped up in this track. Schnitzel Boogie is another pointless diversion, four minutes of a distorted Pink mumbling on about his desire to eat schnitzel. Symphony of the Nymph is an echoey take on the album’s now apparent theme of irritating the listener to the point of smashing their stereo with a lump hammer.
Pink Slime is a ’70s synth pop ode to the reconstituted meat sold by some fast food joints. It’s oddly catchy but hardly turns the tide. A series of other annoying tracks fill gaps until Baby, a ’70s soul pastiche, closes the album with something marginally more intriguing than the slop doled out by Pink and his band in the interim.
It’s hard to know whether Ariel Pink was actively out to mock the listener with this album or whether he actually believes he has recorded a challenging work of art. It doesn’t really matter. Before Today, his first album for 4AD, found him keeping his left-of-centre tendencies focused in service of the songs. Mature Themes is simple self-indulgence and that’s rarely worth listening to. 4AD needs to stick a quality control clause in his contract and fast.