Release Date: September 18, 2012
Pat Benatar’s reign lasted from 1979 to 1988; she had no worthy heir for more than a decade. But in 2002, Kelly Clarkson won the inaugural season of American Idol, giving the idea of a solo, rock-leaning powerhouse female vocalist an unlikely rebirth. Suddenly we had a crop of tempestuous girls emoting over power chords: Avril Lavigne’s debut came out that same year, with Ashlee Simpson’s following in 2004.
Pink arrived in 2000 as an R&B crooner shepherded by Babyface and L.A. Reid. But just a year later, she unleashed the hellfire lurking within via Missundaztood, a far spunkier record, largely overseen by her new musical soulmate, Linda Perry. (SPIN‘s 2002 Pink cover line: “Wild. Tough. Misunderstood. Rock’s Nasty Girl Mouths Off.” The cover photo featured the nearly naked singer licking a pink vinyl copy of Pink Floyd’s Animals.) It remains her best-selling LP to date. But after two slightly less successful efforts, she finally found the kiss-off anthem of her dreams in “So What,” which propelled 2008’s Funhouse to double-platinum sales. The durable Pink was born again. She didn’t just dance for us; she did death-defying acrobatic stunts, twirling soaking wet above the audience at the 2010 Grammys like a sexy salad spinner.
And now that our heroine has stabilized her tumultuous relationship with hubby Carey Hart, has given birth to a daughter named Willow, and ostensibly has nothing to be pissed-off about, this means, of course, that she has everything to be pissed-off about. And so we have The Truth About Love, her sixth album in 12 years. Its opening salvo, “Are We All We Are,” is her most convincing display of Benatar DNA yet, a slamming anthem cut from the same faded denim as her predecessor’s “Invincible.” “We’ve had a few, we’ve had enough, we’ve had it up to here,” Pink sings over crashing drums, pure power overtaking the huskiness in her voice as she interweaves two of her passions: partying and anger.
It’s one of a handful of exciting peaks on an album that seems designed to spar with Clarkson’s most recent release, Stronger. Both are stocked with confidence-jolting up-tempo jams, broken-hearted weepers, and candid explorations of their own flaws. Pink’s is charmingly unhinged; Clarkson scored the better ballads and meatier hooks. But the singers are united by their ability to wring every last milliliter of emotion out of each bleeding note. And while nearly every recent Top 40 album, from Katy Perry to (apparently) Taylor Swift, has dipped at least a toe into EDM beats and bloops, Pink and Clarkson have dug in their heels even harder for guitar pop.
Pink gets it done this time with breakup salve “Try” and “Walk of Shame,” a Bad Girls Club version of Perry’s “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.).” She only falters when she gets democratic. A pair of Eminem collaborators, DJ Khalil and Chin Injeti, are responsible for the most intriguing song, “Here Comes the Weekend,” a woozy march to Monday morning co-starring an energetic Slim Shady himself, who regrettably rhymes about topics as tired as Diddy and Urkel. Her other guests fare even worse: “Just Give Me a Reason,” featuring fun.’s Nate Ruess, is a poor attempt at a Ryan Tedder slow jam, while Lily Rose Cooper (née Allen) is overly saccharine on relationship roller coaster “True Love.”
Seven of the 13 tracks here are labeled “Explicit Version,” but the most objectionable moments come when she nicks passages from massive rock hits: the loopy line from Modest Mouse’s “Float On” for “Blow Me (One Last Kiss”), and the surging guitars and woo hoo! chant from Blur’s “Song 2” on “Slut Like You.” But Pink doesn’t need to prove her bona fides by giving us rock’n’roll karaoke — her songs have enough heart, grit, and energy to stand on their own. That’s what makes the title track so appealing: It swells from a naked bass line into a gooey swing while stripping the sugarcoating off the realities of a long-term relationship (morning breath, dumb fights). The Truth About Love, of course, is that it’s a battlefield. Pink works best as a one-woman army.