Dedicated to Bobby Jameson
If Bobby Jameson and Ariel Pink have one thing in common, it’s a taste for the bizarre. Jameson’s story seems tailor made for a musical biopic: a 60s singer songwriter who had a brush with fame before succumbing to alcoholism and fading into obscurity, a casualty of the hippie era that birthed him. While the surviving music from his career is middling folk rock and psychedelica that seems pulled from a second-rate compilation disc, Jameson’s claim to fame came after 20 years bouncing between homeless shelters and suicide attempts, when he resurfaced from the (presumed) dead in 2007 to carve out a space for himself on the then-new video platform YouTube.
Between then and his death in 2015, he released a series of rants on unpaid royalties and amateurish slideshows set to studio outtakes. His channel, if you’re curious, remains encased in Internet amber. Rather than idealizing his career as a pop singer as some diehards do, Pink seems more infatuated with Jameson’s second coming, naming his newest LP in honour of his unlikely hero. And while there are no explicit references to Jameson on the record, the songs seem to echo his trials and tribulations, whether it be his surrogate role as the “leader of the Sunset Strip” from the title track, the search for lost youth of “I Wanna Be Young,” or the lo-fi paranoia of “Death Patrol.”
What makes Dedicated to Bobby Jameson such an odd listen is that Pink doesn’t really follow through with this thread, dedicating half of the record to surprisingly earnest love songs and the other half to genre experiments that hearken back to his 2014 release pom pom. Cuts like “Feels Like Heaven” and “Do Yourself a Favor” are among the sweetest and subtlest songs of Pink’s career, blissfully unironic and positively tender. Other tracks, such as Jameson-sounding lead single “Another Weekend” and the shoegaze call and response of “Kitchen Witch,” are ghostly and sad, a change of pace from Pink’s usual bubbly irreverence.
The more reliably Pinkish half of the record is predictably unpredictable, verging from the repetitive aural assault of “Time to Meet Your God” to the syrupy Krautrock of “Time to Live.” Pink does his best Bowie impression on the pleasant throwaway “Santa’s in the Closet,” while grooving to a tale of kaleidoscopic KGB on “Death Patrol.” As in his past few records both under his own name and as Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, the album quotes generously from other artists, whether it be The Cure in “Feels Like Heaven” or The Vaselines on the “Son of a Gun”-esque “Bubblegum Dreams.”
Of the two halves, Pink’s softer side is more interesting and refreshing: a sober change of pace from his work with the Haunted Graffiti and on pom pom. “Another Weekend” and “Feels Like Heaven” are some of the best tracks he’s ever released, showing a side of him we haven’t seen since his early work. However, the album ultimately comes off as uneven, featuring weaker tracks like the Beach Boys via Frank Zappa number “I Wanna Be Young” and the limp Dam Funk collaboration “Acting.” Bobby Jameson is far from a bad record, but it’s one that could have been better, unwilling to commit to an idea for more than three minutes at a time — the work of an artist who cares more about doing something new than doing it well.
Words by Max James Hill