Ariel Pink has been putting out album after album of brilliantly strange pop scraps for a decade now, attracting a cult fandom convinced of his prodigious songwriting talent while being dismissed by others as an oddball novelty act. The cohesion and relative accessibility of 2010’s Before Today suggested Pink’s supporters have had it right all along, but Mature Themes’ sprawling hodgepodge of stylistic mutations removes all doubt. The album is bursting with ideas, toeing a titillating line between anything-goes whimsy and a deconstructionist free-for-all.
A dab of production polish keeps it all together: Pink’s earlier work wore its mangled manufacture like a badge of honor, but here, a little studio gloss buffs over the distracting imperfections and better highlights his well-crafted melodies. Any strides Pink makes toward convention, however, are limited by his lyrics, which continue to wallow in the juvenile and absurd. (Wacky, organ-driven opener “Kinski Assassin” asks, “Who sank my battleship?” before referencing “testicle bombs” and “blowjobs of death,” and wistfully murmuring, “I will always have Paris.”) From there, listeners who can take such verbal Dada are in for a jarring 50-minute romp through genres and images. But it’s not all buffoonery. “Mature Themes,” a reverently executed take on AM soft rock, charms with a sweet and simple chorus (“I want it to be good”), while closing track “Baby” (with R&B experimentalist Dam-Funk) faithfully covers an obscure, airy soul gem by Donnie and Joe Emerson.
Drifting, dreamy songs like these are Mature Themes’ high points. Though there’s plenty of the damaged pop psychedelics that’s made up so much of Pink’s previous albums, it’s the lighter material where the group sounds most synergized and inventive, particularly on the breezy, new-age “Live It Up.” A subtle blend of glittery synths, bubbling guitar, and windswept vocal harmonies, the track is one of the band’s more nuanced collaborative efforts. With such impressive versatility and broad musical perspective, Mature Themes is Pink’s best album to date, and sets an invigorating, expansive tone for his work to come.