Album: Beautiful Trauma***½
Of what Taylor Swift now aspires to be, Pink, ne Alicia Beth Moore, scathingly once sang, ‘I don’t wanna be a stupid girl’ (Stupid Girls). Pink on her comeback album Beautiful Trauma does not reinvent herself like TS. She does not need to. If Taylor Swift was previously intimate and soft, Pink has almost always been muscular and aggressive. TS was a songwriter first, singer second; Pink has always been a singer first and a middling songwriter thereafter. At the peak of the R’n’B boom, Pink was a white girl convincingly trying to be an R’n’B diva. Thereafter she morphed, with the help of collaborators like Linda Perry, into a rock-pop singer of intense songs. Lyrically, she has always been loud, confessional, self-critical, basically, edgier, hard rock to TS’s country-pop. But now, years into motherhood and confessedly turbulent marriage to motocrosser Carey Hart, her challenge is to retain her relevance. So, unlike TS, instead of trying to be what she is not, she doubles down on her strengths and goes deeper into herself and gets even more personal.
In Beautiful Trauma, her seventh album, first after a five year absence, Pink prevails mostly by being Pink. The album is more of the same as before, but given that her past catalog is unmatched in quality among her peers, that is not a bad thing. She too like TS relies on superproducers, mostly the very same super-producers used by TS (Max Martin, Greg Kurstin, Jack Antonoff, Shellback). Her strengths as a singer and rabble-rousing (and sometimes foul-mouthed) lyricist lift her album, make her album more fascinating and ultimately better than Taylor Swift’s recent album Reputation.
The lyrics of the album are where Pink fascinates. Where TS’s concerns are teeny-bop, Pink wrestles lyrically with marriage, fidelity, relationship trouble, mortality and other weightier and more mature topics. The album’s title encapsulates what is on offer: trauma from the doubt in the lyrics, and the beautiful from the catchy music and melodies.
Age, motherhood and marriage have certainly made Pink deeper (‘turned into something I swore I would never be.’) The best songs here meld her weightier concerns with winning music. Lyrically Pink goes under the skin and examines scars and all. Her song, Barbies, is amazing. It marries beautiful music and melodies and lyrics that has her yearning for the freedom of her childhood. One of the best songs on the album, Better Life, has her wrestling with her own insecurities, wondering of her husband ‘[b]ut I can’t shake the feeling/That you picture a better life, better wife, better nights, better high.’ The track Revenge featuring Eminem is brilliant even if Em’s performance and rap are not. In comparison to TS’s End Game featuring two raps, Pink’s song of psycho-love (‘We can do revenge/ revenge together’) is much more fun. The title track for all its great music is most compelling for its psycho-drama (you punched a hole in the wall/ I framed it), describing a rather parasitic relationship (my perfect rock bottom/ my beautiful trauma/ my love, my drug) but ends up celebrating the relationship for all its dysfunction, and perhaps because of it. Whatever you want for all its recorded psychoses, is remarkably traditional in its offer of fidelity and whatever (Carey) wants. On the negative side, her maturity at times makes her foul mouthed and blunt. She is not dirty but certainly adult when talking about the physical, adding several f-bombs to her songs. There were moments in the album where I had to turn down a few lines seeing as the kids were in the car.
When Pink, however, moves away from excoriating herself and takes on broader topics she does ring somewhat formulaic. For all her realness and play at authenticity, there is still a predictable formula to Pink’s albums. There will be a revenge song (Revenge). There will be a look-at-our-scars-but-we-still-prevail song, here What about Us reminds one of Pink’s own F*king Perfect, or Beautiful by Christina Aguilera or Fireworks by Katy Perry.
In addition to the calculated nature of some tracks, this is an album of two halves. One half of the album features amazingly great music. The other half by cutting down the music is less so. Pink’s greatest album Missundastood was a party-hearty album; here the party goes missing for half the songs, which in turn try to feature Pink’s stunning vocal prowess by upping the vocal pyrotechnics, and making the music sparer. The result, while being impressive skillwise, is not compelling and just does not bear repeated listening. The needless low tempo ballads have me marking the album down by half a star. Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken is meh and could have worked better with more instrumentation. Pink’s ballads do not have the impact of TS’s New Year’s Day which was better observed. Another song, Pink’s You Get My Love is not much of a song, more of an impressive vocal exercise. Perhaps the plan was that spare instrumentation would bring more focus to the lyrics. It does not. It just makes the songs boring, and the melodies feel underdeveloped; the song brings the album to a musically weak, but lyrically love-affirming end.
Herein lies the rub. With TS there is really not much substance to be found and you wish she would be less self-centred and talk about more compelling, meaningful things. With Pink, she is so compelling in her dysfunction and doubts, that you don’t want to take your eyes off of her upheavals and insecurities; however, when she moves away from her confessional mode to weightier matters or generalities, she, with one startling exception, loses us. For example, she is cringe inducing when she repeats ‘Bone breaks/ It grows back stronger’ (But We Lost It) aiming for the universal; she seems to think repeating the line might give it pathos. It does not, and irks as repetition of something that is blatantly obvious and lyrically clumsy.
The one exception where Pink talks successfully about the Big Issues, about mortality, morality and religion, is on the jawdropping I Am Here. There is so much depth to the song: Pink celebrates her contrary nature (‘there is no such thing as sin’/ ‘I wanna make mistakes,’ ‘I wanna swim in the Flood’) by listing her own contradictions and then launches into a uproarious gospel tinged chorus (‘where does everybody go when they go/ let me ask you’) and concludes (‘ I can think of a thousand places worse than this’). The song is quite an unexpected creation of great emotional depth and her conclusion seems to be that here and now is the best place for her and us. This thus is the shining jewel at the heart of a quite brilliant album, a successful one for Pink with some misses.