Saturday, September 29, 2012

album review: 'the truth about love' by pink

You know, as angry as I got at Chris Brown - and believe me, after listening to every single fucking song on Fortune, I was plenty pissed off - I don't think there was a true 'edge' to that anger.

I won't deny that it's genuine - I loathe the misogynistic spurt of discharge, and every single one of his fans enabling his idiocy ought to be ashamed of themselves - but frankly, I was going into that album prepared for the worst. I expected Fortune to be garbage, and I wasn't disappointed. Now, some people - you know who you are - might say that my opinion was 'biased' going into that review, and that somehow partially invalidates that review because I wasn't being 'fair'. But this argument doesn't stand up based upon some very basic facts - namely because I was willing to give the goddamn album a chance and review it with some degree of intellectual perspective. I didn't just come here and rage incoherently - I actually took the time to try and find any possible shred of goodness in that album. The problem was, well, there wasn't any

But really, that sort of anger isn't really potent. As much as I hate Chris Brown and his music, I can't get truly enraged about it on an artistic level. Sure, Fortune is a massive turd, but it's not like I expected anything better from him. I wasn't expecting him to come forward and deliver some grand magnum opus on the scale of Frank Ocean's channel ORANGE (which I did not review, but I still highly recommend you check out - it's one of the best goddamn albums of the year). And I think I have the capacity to be fair to acts that I'm predisposed not to like - hell, I'm willing to acknowledge that the bonus track from Justin Bieber's Believe, 'Maria', is one of the best pop songs of the year. No, I'm not kidding - it may be working from Michael Jackson's 'Billie Jean' formula, but it nails it.

No, when I really get angry about music, it's about artists or acts that disappoint me. Acts that I know are so much better and yet produce shit that I can't, in good conscience, excuse. Take Eminem, for instance - he's one of my favourite rappers of all time, and I will still place 'Lose It' as the worst song from Billboard's year end charts in 2004 - because it's a skin-crawlingly awful song from a man capable of so much better. In a similar way, I'll rank 'Crack A Bottle', a mind-numblingly disappointing mess of a track from 2009 as the worst song from the year end charts of 2009 - yes, even worse than Beyonce's 'Diva' - because it's coming from three artists (well, two really, I have no love for 50 Cent) who are capable of so much more.

And on the topic of Eminem and disappointments, let's talk about Pink.


Believe me, it's not as odd of a transition as you might think, because I firmly believe (and I've written about in other articles) that the two are actually quite similar as artists. Both are brash and obnoxious, and they're at their best when this brashness and obnoxiousness is amped either to infinity or tamped down to zero. Both are acts that started with so-so debuts that transformed into pretty damn solid careers (people, Eminem's Infinite is just not very good - deal with it already). Both of them tend to express a certain degree of hateful vehemence when ripping into ex-partners in song. And both are painfully honest and sincere performers, to the point where it can get a little uncomfortable. And, much to my complete lack of surprise, it was only a matter of time before the two of them collaborated: Pink sang the hook on Eminem's 'Won't Back Down' on Recovery (a song that really should be a lot better than it is, but then again, that's my opinion about Recovery in a nutshell), and Eminem shows up to deliver a verse on Pink's 'Here Comes The Weekend', and, well...

Okay, I'm not ready to talk about the album yet, because I need to explain my perspective on Pink. Her first album was pretty disposable, if I'm being honest, but it certainly wasn't horrible - it was late 90s bubblegum pop with the faintest hint of an edge, and was enjoyable enough. No, when I started paying attention to Pink was with 2001's Mizzunderstood, when Pink tore away from the chains of the plastic pop princess and began writing songs with a degree of maturity. Her often ragged voice, visceral passion, and rougher production reminded me of Joan Jett in a really good way, and the fact that she was writing the majority of her own tracks was reassuring as well. 

And let's be honest here: the early 2000s were fucking great for female singers in this mold. Between Avril Lavigne and Pink and Kelly Clarkson and even some Christina Aguliera and Ashlee Simpson - hell, I'll even throw Nelly Furtado and Beyonce and Shakira (the first two I'm not that much of a fan of, but Shakira's got an offbeat weirdness to her songs that I find endearing and holy fuck she can dance) into the mix - there were a lot of female singers delivering raw quality content in the early years of the decade. If I go back to my list of best hit songs from 2002, the majority of the performers are women - no joke whatsoever. And the best thing is that all of the acts sounded unique and brought their own flavour to the table, and for the most part a lot of their material was pretty damn good.

From there, Pink hit something of a misstep with her third album Try This, but I'd still argue there are some underrated gems on that album ('Humble Neighborhoods' is easily one of Pink's best tracks and if you haven't heard it you need to correct that NOW because it's AWESOME). She took a few years off and came back with the appropriately titled I'm Not Dead, which was also a great album that had all sorts of awesomeness. And then she came out with Funhouse in 2008 and I liked that album too, half because 'So What' is easily the best song of 2008 (don't even start) and the other half because Pink managed to actually add some texture and depth to a break-up album that wouldn't be repeated until Adele's 21. She was on a fucking roll, and the fact that she was willing to release songs like 'Conversations with My 13 Year Old Self', 'U + Ur Hand', 'Dear Mr. President', and 'Stupid Girls' suggested that not was Pink one of the smarter songwriters working in pop music, but that she had a feminist edge and message to her music that doesn't typically get mainstream airplay the way it should. 

And even when she dropped her greatest hits album with 'Fucking Perfect' and 'Raise Your Glass' on it, I was still firmly in her camp. I put 'Fucking Perfect' on my list of favourite songs of 2011 even though I was very much aware of the lyrical clumsiness in that song and the discordant shifts in tone. But don't get me wrong, I was aware that clumsiness was there. To some degree, it always has been - Pink's honesty means she often throws fancy metaphors to the wind and delivers her lyrics with a certain poetic inelegance, which can get frustrating at points. But I did figure that, hey, I dig the honesty, the music is still solid, and I like the message. As long as all of those stay the same, we should be good, right?

Well, let me be as blunt as possible - I'll drop in nuanced discussion in a bit, but I need to let some rage out now or this will colour the rest of my review: Pink's The Truth About Love is not only her worst album by far, it's also one of the most insulting, fucking offensive pieces of garbage I've ever seen produced by an artist I like. It's the sort of blatant sellout that I saw come from Avril Lavigne and Kelly Clarkson, and it is so gratuitously repellent that I very literally had to stop the tracks mid-song to come to grips with that fact. Eminem's Encore didn't get me this angry. 

In fact, let me describe to you what the best song on the album is: it's a acoustic guitar ballad (because, you know, I'm the absolute fucking biggest fan of those) titled 'Beam Me Up' where Pink proceeds to misunderstand a very basic Star Trek reference (you know, because I'm the absolute fucking biggest fan of Star Trek) and attempts to recontextualize it to fit her fucked-up relationship. And yeah, I'll admit the song is pretty decent, but it's sure as hell not because of the goddamn lyrics!

And here's where I will provide one of the few definite positives about The Truth About Love - Pink throws herself into every song. She's not half-assing any of it - which is nice, I guess, I like it when my pop stars show some effort (see one of the reasons I have a hard time getting behind Justin Timberlake - everything seems so fucking easy for him). But even this positive becomes something of a negative when you hear Pink screaming her lungs out, forcing her voice to the very limits of its range - and for what?

Well, let's start with the instrumentation, which I'd argue is the first big part of the problem. I've tended to like the fact that Pink at least tries to be a pop-rock singer - she normally incorporates harder guitars and a rougher sound, and it adds a certain degree of energy and authenticity to her act. Plus, it makes her sound more like Joan Jett, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. But here, the electric guitars are often either sludgy and incoherent or buried behind the absolutely fucking worthless electronic overproduction I thought we got rid of last year! There's no fucking restraint in the instrumentation outside of the slower tracks, and most of those aren't musically interesting enough to be worth mention.

Of course, if we are going to focus on the slower tracks, we need to talk about the lyrics - and here's where I'm finally dropping the hammer down. Even despite her singing, Pink's lyrics on this album are amateur, badly-structured and sloppy, and nowhere is this more apparent than on the first hit single, 'Blow Me (One Last Kiss)', which is currently in contention for one of the worst songs of the goddamn year. If you can't make your lyrical meter in your chorus work, you've got a fucking problem! Forget coherent rhyme scheme - if you can't even make your syllable counts roughly equivalent to the point where you can tell how painfully lazy the track sounds, in your goddamn chorus, you've got a fucking problem!

But the bad instrumentation and the sloppy lyrics are only the first two layers around a shitty, shitty center - you know, the actual lyrical content. Because as disappointing as the previous two parts are, neither of those parts get me pissed off in the same vein unless the song actively sounds repellent (see, Chris Brown's Fortune). But it's the lyrical content that enrages me and draws me to swear like a comedian overdosing on cocaine.

You see, part of Pink's style was that she had a real hardline feminist slant in her music, but it was also supplemented with enough humanity and vulnerability and context to make it tolerable and palatable. It was a refreshing twist, particularly compared to some of her contemporaries. So when that I heard that the title of the album was The Truth About Love, I was cautiously intrigued. I mean, Pink has done a fairly decent job of contextualizing relationships in all sorts of situations, and I was curious to see how she interpret that concept in a raw, real way.

So, what is Pink's The Truth About Love all about?

I have no goddamn clue - and right now, I don't think Pink knows either.

I'm serious here: there is so much artifice and 'irony' and sarcasm on these tracks with regards to relationships, you'd think you'd be listening to Maroon 5 or something. The lyrical content is still raw and descriptive, but the honesty is gone completely. And with it went the majority of the hardline feminism - seriously, there are tracks on this bloody album that sound like they were cuts from her very first album! But without that honesty, all of the content that's intended to be raw and meaningful lacks punch, and without the hardline, aggressive feminism, there's nothing to distinguish Pink from Kelly Clarkson, another act that blatantly sold out with a hit single abusing parentheses in the title. 

Now, I will grant Pink this - she's still interesting enough as a performer to be at least slightly engaging even though her songs are rapidly becoming drivel. However, being interesting doesn't mean the music is remotely good. It's clear that somebody producing thought that the best way to make Pink sound edgy and tough again (despite the fact she's in her early thirties) was to make her sound like Ke$ha. Now, Ke$ha's dropping an album this year, and I'm looking forward to it because I actually get what Ke$ha's doing (unlike the majority of people who hate her music), and what she's doing is ruthlessly parodying the trashy party-girl lifestyle, with lyrics significantly smarter than most give her credit. It's a Beastie Boys sort of thing, and considering Ke$ha's working with Ben Folds and Iggy Pop and Alice Cooper and collaborated with the Flaming Lips this year, there's proof that she actually has a working brain and a wry, acerbic sense of humour. It also helps that Ke$ha's parody pop material is actually significantly catchier and better than the majority of her peers, but that's a topic for a different day.

My point is this: Pink isn't trying for parody here - the lyrical clumsiness evident here and on the serious tracks provides evidence of that. And while there's a pretty vicious third-wave feminist streak in some of Ke$ha's work too (I'll explain when the album comes out, calm down), without that streak in Pink's own material, the 'party-girl' songs just sound trashy in the worst possible way. I can't imagine it's comfortable for Pink to sing tracks like this.

And finally, some of the songs themselves are just... offensive. Like, 'I-can't-believe-you-fucking-wrote-this' offensive. And as a guy who is a feminist, I find something very wrong with a song like 'True Love', which is spent detailing the hate-hate, near-abusive relationship Pink has with her partner, and then explaining how they're still together because it's 'true love'. If you don't understand why that isn't appalling, I don't think we share similar genetic material, because that sort of material shows such a staggering misunderstanding of what love is and means and represents that it really comes across as offensive in the worst possible way. Or take the title track, which talks about all manner of pain and anger and suffering and ultimately circles back to say "The truth about love is... the truth about love." How fucking trite. You know, when Eminem and Rihanna did 'Love The Way You Lie' and sang about abusive relationships, the song at least seemed to come from somewhere real and the added context from both Eminem and Rihanna's fucked up personal lives added some depth. Here, everything is so bitter and sarcastic and slathered in artifice that I can't get behind any of the goddamn songs, no matter how catchy the hook might be, and it's such a flagrant betrayal of the feminist edge she had before.

Oh, and speaking of Eminem? He has one verse on 'Here Comes The Weekend', an overproduced screechy horrendous shitpile of a song, and to say he has energy on that song is like saying Apple Maps is worth the price of an iPhone 5. The verse is so worthless and tired and completely forgettable that it was the only thing slightly redeemable about the track itself, one of the worst on the album because of the terrible production, awful melody, and garbage lyrics.

Now I would be remiss not to mention that the album does come in a deluxe issue - and I strongly advise that if you've suffered enough cerebral damage that this album must be a part of your life, get that version. Like with Bieber's Believe, the bonus tracks are a bit better constructed, have understated production, and slightly tighter lyrics - which only elevates them to being filler, but it's still worth mentioning. And the two songs outside of 'Beam Me Up' that aren't terrible on The Truth About Love are 'Just Give Me A Reason' (a duet song with Nate Ruess from fun., which proves how much he and Pink clash badly on the song analogous to Freddie Mercury's collaboration with Montserrat Cabelle for Barcelona (look it up)) and 'Walk of Shame' (a song that spits in the face of people who slut-shame, which is admirable, but is let down by a terribly annoying electronic whistle at the top of the track, over-production, and some truly stupid lyrics). 

But outside of that, The Truth About Love is bad. I can say that, like with Believe, it's an interesting kind of bad, but it's the kind of bad that makes you feel sick to your stomach. All of the artifice on the tracks isn't needed because it detracts from Pink as a decent performer, and the bad lyrics and worse production are just more evidence that Pink sold out on this album. It's clear from her over-singing that she's still trying some degree - is she just out of ideas, or has she finally become subsumed by the pop industry that she railed against for so long? I know she's so much better than this - her last four albums showed that as a performer she had a unique style and voice that was desperately needed on the pop landscape. Now she's making the same sort of trash that I'd expect from modern-day Kelly Clarkson or Rihanna or Britney Spears or Katy Perry. 

Well, guess what, Pink? We already have a Kelly Clarkson and a Rihanna and a Ke$ha. We need a Pink, and in a political climate where women's rights are being challenged and contested or openly derided, we need a fire-spitting intelligent feminist Pink more than ever. So please, get your shit together.

You too, Miss Lavigne - I know you're marrying Chad Kroeger now for some reason (I'm assuming the abuse of eyeliner contributed to the brain damage), but you made good music once before you sold out, and I want to see you go back to that. I'm not sure the feminist pop voice can survive all that well if it's being sung by only one person - and that one person is Ke$ha.

3 comments:

  1. In my experience Pink only truly has an edge when Linda Perry is writing for her/producing.

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  2. The deluxe version songs are better than the compilation of songs on the regular album. I'm not sure if you are referencing Where Did the Beat Go when you mention Pink ripping off her older material, but I would say that is the best song on this album. It kind of makes me nostalgic for Pink when she had R&B rock blending powers especially in her earlier years. In all other instances I agree that this is too much of a Pop Princess dream album, but I'm not as angry/disappointed by it.

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  3. ------------------------------------------------------------------------
    thuyuy12
    10-04-2009, 07:14 AM
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