Who says you can't turn a funeral into a party? Pink says you can. And what Pink says goes.
Let us endeavor so to live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.
-- "The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson and the Comedy of the Extraordinary Twins", Mark Twain
Alecia Moore, better known as Pink, has returned. Actually, I like to call her "Pink Marmalade" since her collaboration with Missy, Mya, Kim, and Christina, but whatever you call her and how ever you spell it -- with or without the exclamation mark -- she's back with her fourth release, I'm Not Dead. As the title suggests, this album is a statement of sorts and, when you reflect upon the previous statements in her discography, this is the one we probably should have seen coming. Of course, you know what they say about hindsight, right? Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.
On Can't Take Me Home, her debut, you might argue that Pink got stuck with the songs TLC couldn't use. It was obvious she had talent. As the gospel folks are fond of saying, she doesn't just "sing", she can SANG. But there was a T-Bozziness to her vocals, like Babyface had decided to replicate a patented formula with Pink no matter what the cost.
For her second outing, M!ssundaztood, Pink flipped the script and transformed her outer T-Boz into something more personal, with more vision and more "edge". In a way, it was a statement from Pink that not only had we misunderstood her debut, other parts of her life had been misperceived as well. The wounded, confessional "Family Portrait" brought the matter home, along with "Dear Diary" and "My Vietnam". Whether or not the songs were autobiographical is beside the point. They were compelling, and memorable, with that adorable angst that takes us back to the Madonna school of music. As if wary of people getting the wrong idea about M!ssundaztood , the lead single "Get This Party Started", combined with its video, defined Pink as an overall happy person, albeit a little clumsy, with a self-deprecating sense of humor. Pink had arrived -- contradictions, inner conflicts, and all.
Then came the third statement, Try This, a further departure from Pink's R&B beginnings. Where she had collaborated with Linda Perry, Steven Tyler, and Richie Sambora on M!ssundaztood, her third album found her in the company of Rancid's Tim Armstrong. From the opening bang of "Trouble" to the somber close of "Love Song", Pink took notes from Pat Benatar, Kim Carnes, and Janis Joplin and used them to write her own essay.
Now comes I'm Not Dead and, this time, Pink's out to kill us softly, with a deft combination of laughter and irony. Instead of getting the party started, she's the party crasher. Whose party is it? Apparently, there's a funeral going on and it's Pink's, but true to her down-to-earth rebel persona, she couldn't just sit back and go out like that. The cover art shows the fiery singer bursting out of what appears to be a funeral wreath, mouth wide open in mid-song, her pink tresses adorned with a crown (or is that a halo?) of yellow stars. Maybe she's announcing that her career isn't dead, since the general consensus seems to be that Try This wasn't a hit, despite its peak position at #9 on The Billboard 200. Well, maybe so, but it seems like Pink's saying the same thing LL Cool J said on "Mama Said Knock You Out" -- "Don't call it a comeback".
Whatever the motivation for the title, here she is. When you're a rebel, there's only one party left to crash, and that's your own. I'm Not Dead finds Pink sitting on the casket with her legs swinging, delivering her own eulogy in a style that relies in part on creative collaborations with hitmakers such as Butch Walker, Max Martin, and Billy Mann. The other part of the equation is Kelly Clarkson's "Since You've Been Gone", the echoes of which can be heard in several of the album's songs. "Runaway", thematically, could also be a nod to the other Clarkson hit, "Breakaway". Elsewhere, Pink summons the spirits of the Go-Gos and Tiffany ("I Think We're Alone Now") on "Leave Me Alone (I'm Lonely)".
Collaborating with "mainstream" producers could be seen as Pink's attempt to snatch radio play from the Lavignes and the Clarksons of the world. Perhaps. There's also a tendency (mainly by me) to denounce such plays for mainstream attention as "selling out", as if artists sign record deals hoping to avoid heavy rotation. In this case, though, Pink demonstrates that you can make songs that sound like they were specifically tailored for the TV Show One Tree Hill without sacrificing your individuality. That's quite a nifty trick. But it works here because Pink's personality and humor allow her to infuse something unique into each tune. Even when you feel like you've heard it before ("Nobody Knows", "Long Way to Happy"), her smoky vocals and clever touches let you know it's not the same old thing. She's not dead.
And she's not all form over substance either. On "Stupid Girlz", she rails against the idea that women have to choose between being smart and being sexy, as if the two are mutually exclusive. Pink makes the case that women can be all that and more -- "Girls with ambition," she sings, "That's what I want to see". She sounds bewildered and exasperated when she says, in the frequently quoted lines:
What happened to the dream of a girl president?
She's dancing in the video next to 50 Cent
They travel in packs of two or three
With their itsy bitsy doggies and their teenie weenie tees
What could have easily been a rant turns into an adept social critique. The way she sings it, the problem isn't 50 Cent's video, it's the idea that dancing in the video is the extent of a woman's aspirations. The bit about the "itsy bitsy doggies" suggests a disdain for elitism and excess that makes you wonder if Gwen Stefani's "Rich Girl" made Pink see red. It's got the same playfully articulate vibe as George Clinton's "Some of My Best Jokes Are Friends". By the way, for those keeping score, the United States is on its forty-third consecutive male president. Female presidents? Zilch. Female rump shakers in music videos? Countless. Don't look now, but it seems like Pink's got a point.
Oh, and speaking of presidents, Pink's musical letter to the Commander-in-Chief ("Dear Mr. President") is just as topical. The Indigo Girls tag along for moral support and, with lyrics like "How can you say, 'no child is left behind' / we're not dumb and we're not blind" or "You've come a long way, from whiskey and cocaine", you just know that if she'd made the song a few years earlier, it would have been featured in Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911. You also get the impression that this is personal for Pink, that she's not doing it to be trendy. On the lyric page for "Dear Mr. President", there's a picture of Pink in an oval frame. Red, white, and blue ribbons are tied to the frame and her father's dog tags share the reddish page. Her father, a Vietnam vet, also shares the spotlight on the bonus track, "I Have Seen the Rain", and Pink offers some childhood memories about the song as an intro. Check it out -- that's how you personalize your music.
Other highlights include the remaining tongue-in-cheek critiques of blingdom, "Cuz I Can" and "I Got Money". With "Cuz I Can", Pink amps the culture of conspicuous consumption to an absurd level of bravado. At the outset, she brags, "I drink more than you do, I party harder than you do, and my car's faster than yours too!" Later, she's got "diamonds all over my teefs" and she's sure she can fit "your whole house in my swimming pool". Then there's the hilarious line, "I'm tryin' to school ya dogs / Ruff ruff ruff ruff ruff ruff ruff". But the key to the song is here: "My life's a fantasy". Taking that message through the front door would have been way too preachy. Tossing that message through a back window is much more clever and entertaining.
Similarly, "I Got Money Now" chronicles the lead voice's fight for attention and acceptance. Even though nobody's calling her, and you can tell it stings, she maintains, "You don't have to like me anymore, I've got money now". She's adamant that she doesn’t need family or friends because the money should be enough. Then the truth shines through in Pink's simple but telling, "Or so it seems". Again, this approach works much better than trying to make a rock version of "The Greatest Love of All".
Rock out to "Long Way to Happy" and "U + Ur Hand". Enjoy the tenderness of "Conversations With My 13 Year Old Self". "Conversations", in which adult-Pink drops knowledge on teen-Pink, sounds as if her life is flashing before her eyes, which certainly fits the album's title. Meanwhile, Pink belts out her lyrics like a champ on "Nobody Knows" and "The One That Got Away".
For hardcore Pink fans and collectors, note that the U.K. release features two tracks ("Fingers" and "Centerfold") that don't appear on the U.S. version, while the song "Heartbreaker" (another nod to Ms. Benatar) appears on the "Stupid Girlz" single. Pink is fond of b-sides, so other non-album gems are likely to surface. Also, look for Pink's vocal contribution to "Song Without a Chorus" by Butch Walker & the Let's Go Out Tonites on their album "The Rise & Fall of Butch Walker & the Let's Go Out Tonites".
As for Pink's own career, I'm Not Dead is a wildly ambitious album that solidifies Pink's status as superbad funky rocker chick. She's not pushing up daisies just yet. And she's got the brains, the sexiness, and the guts to prove it.