Forget Luscious Jackson: Pink is America’s first proper Beastie Girl. The bootyliciousCan’t Take Me Home (2000) was her Licensed to Ill, a gleefully race-traitorous debut that garnered props from fans on both sides of the color line. And she kept on illin’, trading blue-eyed funk for cathartic, pigment-neutral pop rock on 2001’s Missundaztood (her Check Your Head); she successfully stared down label boss L.A. Reid to get it released. Why Reid tripped is still a mystery. Pink is a populist, raised on hip-hop, metal, and Top 40 radio, and Missundaztood phrased its woman-on-the-verge-of-a-nervous-throwdown vision in terms that more than five million fans could grasp.
Which means that this time around, Pink’s label has given her just enough rope to hang herself — a fate she handily avoids. Linda Perry, whose cowriting defined Missundaztood, gets credit on only a few tracks (though one, “Waiting for Love,” is a majestic ballad that evokes Heart at their most misty-mountainous). Perry has been replaced by Rancid’s Tim Armstrong, who always has been an underrated pop hookster. The pairing yields an album that’s closer in spirit to Rancid’s bighearted radio punk than to anything Pink has put her name on before — all scrappy power chords and wounded warmth. “Walk Away” plays like a No Doubt song with teeth, and “Last to Know” cribs its low-riding rhythm from Armstrong’s more-bounce, less-trounce side project, the Transplants, as Pink vents gleefully: “You could have called me back, you stupid fuck.”
But when she’s yelling, Pink isn’t yelling atyou — the listener is always a coconspirator, never a target. Nothing on Try This, middle-finger-waving title or not, is edgy enough to imperil Pink’s status as pop’s princess of pain. Although her anger occasionally feels feigned, the deep sadness it masks never does. As guest diva Peaches pants on the sweaty “Oh My God,” “We’re all pink inside.” And pink means tender.