Just had my first listen -
In the past I have put all Ariel's albums in the 'genius' pile, other than maybe Scared Famous which I don't gel with but is insane at least. This is the first one I've felt sort is both sort of 'safe' and also not that inspired.
He clearly took a very determined step back into his past sonically- it's not as clear and pristine as his 4AD albums. That always worked when the songs were either spectacular pop songs or inspired maze-like experiments that pulled from so many different references. I don't really think anything on here qualifies as either of those things that he does really well. Several are same-y shoegazey workouts that blend into each other and don't make a singular impression (Feels Like Heaven, Dedicated.., Kitchen Witch, etc.) some are serviceable but no Ariel magic to me (Bubblegum Dreams, Another Weekend).
I'd say my favorite so far is the Can-like Death Patrol, or maybe Acting - since it really hits that early 80s post-disco/boogie feel (due to Dam Funk's influence no doubt) which is like my #1 all-time favorite genre, but anyway.. overall I really hope it's a grower.
"inspired maze-like experiments that pulled from so many different sources"
To me Kitchen Witch takes inspiration from this:
and Dedicated to Bobby Jameson (title track) is partially inspired by this:
I'm hearing several other instances of homage as I listen to this album. I'll post more as they come to me.
I couldn't disagree more with your assessment. What you say the album is lacking I say it maintains those things and more.
Ariel has outdone himself once again.