Do we detect just the barest trace of defensiveness in the title of Pink’s fourth album? Like maybe she thinks we think it’s time to break out the defibrillators on her flatlining career? It’s not as dire as that: Fewer than five years have passed since her quintuple-platinum breakthrough, 2001’s M!ssundaztood, married the frothiness of the teen-pop times to the singer-songwriter tradition and came up with a swell new genre: confessional bubblegum. But 2003’s tossed-off follow-up, Try This, was a washout, and we do live in a ”one strike and you’re pushing up daisies” world.
Happily, with I’m Not Dead, our heroine has rediscovered that plot she lost. The new album doesn’t completely jettison the previous one’s attempt to reimagine Pink as a punky Joan Jett type, but it does do a much better job of recalling how, at her peak, Jett had great pop instincts, too. In superior tracks that combine rock’s old-fashioned roar with contemporary, heavy-breathing beats, Pink becomes a new breed of automotive hybrid: Britney Benatar.
For the first half of that equation, it doesn’t hurt that she’s enlisted erstwhile teen-pop titan Max Martin (who — oops! — has done it again, following Kelly Clarkson’s ”Since U Been Gone” with more unlikely femme power chords). Martin produced and co-wrote three corkers, including one that’s destined to be an instant word-of-mouth smash: the irresistibly rude ”U + Ur Hand,” in which Pink tells a drunken club suitor just whom he’ll be having sex with later (the title provides the answer).
Pink tends to be as good as her key co-conspirators, and she’s also well served by two other producer/co-writers. Butch Walker (Avril Lavigne) shares credit on the perfectly realized ”Leave Me Alone (I’m Lonely),” a pissy yet affectionate rocker that throws down competing desires for attentiveness and space in a relationship. Mike Elizondo (Fiona Apple) gives the assist on ”I Got Money Now,” the saddest exultation of wealth as cure-all since ”Money Changes Everything.”
Unfortunately, there’s a fourth collaborator, Billy Mann, who turns out to be Pink’s go-to guy for overearnest clinkers. Their current hit, ”Stupid Girls,” has some verve. But smart girls can safely skip over ”Nobody Knows,” a stab at Xtina-style balladic solipsism; ”The One That Got Away,” her apparent Joplin biopic audition tape; ”Dear Mr. President,” with its incongruous folkie social concern and Bush-baiting applause lines; and ”Conversations With My 13 Year Old Self,” a good argument for the American Psychological Association to finally ban ”inner child” therapy.
But even her misses are ballsier and blusterier than most everybody else’s recent hits. And with the best two-thirds or so of Dead, she’s put in the work and come up with the hooks to justify all that hubris de vivre. Creatively speaking — and probably financially, too — Pink is back in the black.