Long Way to Happy
Pink’s Funhouse is rife with promise: post-divorce, it’s Pink’s time to party, and as lead single “So What” shows, she’s going to do it on her own terms: guitars screaming all around her while she gives the middle finger to the sky and continues her riotous bout of midday drinking, relishing her newfound independence and having a damn good time in doing so.
Truth be told, Funhouse is as misleading an album title as you can possibly get.
Then again, Pink’s album titles have always been good indicators of their contents. Her 2000 debut Can’t Take Me Home was very much the pre-packaged pop disc that could only be made by a girl who was “edgier” than her then-contemporaries Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson. Yet Alecia “Pink” Moore wasn’t too happy with having her sound controlled by pop svengalis, which is why 2001’s breakthrough album M!ssundaztood was her statement of defiance. In producer Linda Perry (ex-4 Non Blondes), Pink found a woman who was willing to indulge her cathartic brand of dance-pop, helping write songs like “Don’t Let Me Get Me” and “My Vietnam”. These tracks put family tragedy right in the center of pop radio, proving that Pink’s “edginess” did not stem from her Not For Red Carpet fashion bent, but her willingness to expose herself emotionally on the Top 40.
With her second album alone, she had become a pop enigma, which, invariably, led her to become ennobled, soon hiring Rancid frontman Tim Armstrong as a pop songwriter, resulting in the aptly-named 2003 disc Try This, a guitar-heavy pop album that, despite some excellent singles (namely “Trouble” and “God’s a DJ”), failed to connect with listeners in any significant way. Upset with the tepid sales of Try This, Pink went back to the sprawling confessional pop of her sophomore release, resulting in 2006’s I’m Not Dead. The title applied to Pink both artistically and commercially. Here was a pop starlet who wasn’t too scared to call out the stupidity of her supposed former “peers” (“Stupid Girls”), her country’s president (“Dear Mr. President”), or her would-be one-night stand (the raunchy kiss-off “U + Ur Hand”). Then came her marriage to motocross star Carey Hart. Then came the divorce. Then came Funhouse.
So even though the exuberant cover of Funhouse bills Pink as enjoying the single life to its fullest, it’s an album that’s actually drenched in regret. “So What” is as big a red herring single as you can find, yet the cracks of regret seep through even that. During the last chorus, her wails of “I don’t want you tonight” and “I’m alright” reek of a strange sort of desperation, as if she’s not actually enjoying her new single life, instead spending time convincing herself that she’s enjoying it. Immediately following that track, Pink launches into the surprisingly downtrodden “Sober”, a song that once again spends time convincing herself that everything’s alright (“How do I feel this good sober?” the chorus asks). Just a glance at the rest of the song titles gives insight into Pink’s post-relationship emotional states: “I Don’t Believe You”, “Please Don’t Leave Me”, “It’s All Your Fault”. After forging a life with her better half for so long, it’s a shock when that half gets up and leaves, taking much of her identity with her. As such, Funhouse is all over the place emotionally.
Obviously this is somewhat heady stuff for a pop record, but the marketing, press releases, and videos make it clear. We cannot accept the subject of these songs as anyone else but Pink. These are her songs about herself, bits of autobiography compressed into four-minute sugar rushes, all ready for purchase iTunes. Yet Funhouse never settles on one stance or persona for Pink to latch onto. On the string-heavy indictment “One Foot Wrong”, Pink starts by asking the following:
Am I sweating
Or are these tears on my face?
Should I be hungry?
I can’t remember the last time that I ate
I need a friend to talk me down
She never fully describes what is causing her state of being, but, as the chorus (and bass-heavy keyboards) hit, Pink defiantly declares to her ex, “You’re gonna love me when I’m gone!” Yet, given that that statement has no buildup, this out-of-nowhere declaration lacks any sort of punch, making the lyrics fall apart under their own weight. The title track suffers, meanwhile, from the weakest chorus Pink has ever sung: “This used to be a fun house / And now it’s filled with evil clowns” (what?). So evil these clowns are, in fact, that Pink must “burn this fucker down”, pulling a Left Eye and burning down the house she used to live in ... which, really, would be a lot more fun were it not for the fact that her malice is based in cruelty instead of clear-cut revenge. The track’s weak guitar hook does little to help her cause.
Yet two weak moments do not make for a weak album, and Pink writes best when she writes about her own conflicts, acting one way yet feeling another, as evidenced by “Please Don’t Leave Me”:
I don’t know if I can yell any louder
How many times have I kicked you out of here?
I said something insulting
I can be so mean when I wanna be
I’m capable of really anything
I can cut you into pieces
(When my heart is broken)
Yet instead of gloating over her lover’s absence, she twists that notion on itself during the New Order-affected chorus: “Please don’t leave me / I always say how I don’t need you / But it always comes right back to me / Please don’t leave me”. Pink is trying to remind us that we all do stupid things when we’re in love, committing hurtful acts in fits of rage and regretting them later.
All this regret is reflected in the music as well, as Funhouse is much closer to “Who Knew?” than “Get the Party Started”. The careening pop of “Bad Influence”, the surging guitars of “It’s All Your Fault”, and the blues-rocker (?) “Mean” all prove to be exceptions to the rule, as Funhouse is a very down-tempo album, unafraid to stack ballads next to each other. But never once does it feel like it’s thematically lapping itself. Of all the ballads, though, the quiet piano closer “Glitter in the Air” takes the cake, never once overplaying its hand, remaining sweet without once ever succumbing to saccharine niceties (think of a Jason Robert Brown song without the vocal showboating). It’s the sweetest moment on the entire disc, but it only succeeds because it’s also the least complex song here, reflecting on life’s simple joys and simply savoring them just for what they are.
In the end, Funhouse bites off more than it can chew, but it never chokes on its ambitions: it shows Pink as one who is unsure of her post-marital identity, hopping around from emotion to emotion without ever settling onto a state of stability until the album’s well-timed closing moments. There is still much to dissect, and, yes, some songs come apart under close scrutiny, but few pop artists are bold enough to have their private persona double over as their public one. And as such it never once feels like Pink is faking her emotions. Funhouse is not her best album or even her most exciting excursion. It is, however, her most mature statement to date. And considering the litter of self-deprecating pop staples that she’s left in her wake, that’s really saying something.
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// Notes from the Road
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