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Pink

   Can't Take Me Home (LaFace/Arista, 2000)
     Missundaztood (Arista, 2001)
    Try This (Arista, 2003)
    I'm Not Dead (LaFace, 2006)
     Funhouse (LaFace, 2008)
    Funhouse Tour: Live in Australia (LaFace, 2009)

With a hot-pink crew cut and her place as the lone white girl on urban label LaFace, Philly native Pink stood out on arrival. But there was little about the mostly slick, by-the-numbers R&B of her debut, Can't Take Me Home, that suggested the singer, then just out of her teens, would warrant a second look come her 21st birthday. No doubt, her label crafted the best R&B/pop money could buy: Production and songwriting was supplied by the best in the biz (She'kspere, Babyface). Pink sounds plenty sassy and suitably cool on hits like "There You Go" and "Most Girls," but she never truly takes control of the material.

Not so with Pink's surprising follow-up, Missundaztood. Forsaking the faceless R&B of her debut, she enlisted the help of both TLC producer Dallas Austin, whose R&B embraces mainstream pop, and former 4 Non Blondes frontwoman Linda Perry, whose rock leans toward funky. The collaborations provided just the transition Pink needed to remake herself into the pop diva most likely to stick around. While it's not above the occasional corn, Missundaztood delivers the stuff of great, even eclectic, contemporary pop: the electro-boogie anthem "Get the Party Started," the Alanis-lite rock of "Don't Let Me Get Me," the slow and straight blues of "Misery" (featuring Aerosmith's Steven Tyler). Moreover, Pink's lyrics let loose, expressing the angst and aspirations of teen-girldom in a way that puts her pop peers (and her own lightweight debut) to shame. Missundaztood defines Pink as a voice worth noting.

Try This takes Pink's new direction even further. While Linda Perry reappears to cowrite songs including the Heart-like "Waiting For Love," Pink's main collaborator is Rancid's Tim Armstrong, who lends a full-on rock approach to tracks like "Trouble" and "Humble Neighborhoods." With Pink's transformation nearly complete, the lone R&B slow jam "Catch Me While I'm Sleeping," which would have fit just fine on her debut, sounds downright out of place here. Regardless of style, though, pop hooks remain central to any Pink song, and Try This delivers the goods with only slightly less flair than its predecessor.

Just three years later, Pink was fully ready to embrace her inner badass — and she's never looked back. "I don't give a damn, I don't play your rules, I make my own," she sings on " 'Cuz I Can," a somewhat sarcastic rebel anthem that mixes electro punch with angsty guts. Pink moves even further from R&B into pop-rock territory on I'm Not Dead, taking aim at the cult of young Hollywood celebrity (the Sublime-pop of "Stupid Girls") and George W. Bush's war-mongering (the acoustic "Dear Mr. President"). With assistance from hitmaker Max Martin, kiss-off single "U + Ur Hand" bounces off crunchy guitars, but Pink strips back the production on raw ballads "Nobody Knows" and "Conversations With My 13 Year Old Self," both written with Billy Mann, to show off her powerful pipes.

Funhouse opens with a sneer and ends with tears. Fresh off a breakup with her husband, motocross racer Carey Hart (the couple later reconciled), Pink is in conflict, both ready to brawl and confess her worst traits ("So What" and "Please Don't Leave Me"). Atmospheric synths pepper Funhouse, but guitars play an even bigger role. Power chords propel world-weary "Ave Mary A" and No Doubt's Tony Kanal contributes to the sharply groovy title track. Max Martin and Billy Mann return, and American Idol judge and songwriter Kara DioGuardi pitches in on standout single "Sober," which rides a Red Hot Chili Peppers-esque riff to an explosively dark chorus, where Pink looks at herself and her bare inner strength. On her circus-themed Funhouse tour, she explores her outer strength, too, performing the track blindfolded and upside down on a trapeze.

Portions of this album guide appeared in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (Fireside, 2004).

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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