By Maura Johnston
April 25, 2019 at 08:00 AM EDT
RCA Records

Next year marks the 20th anniversary of Pink’s crash-landing into pop. Since then, she’s become one of music’s most beloved real talkers, blending ripped-from-the-journals lyrics with radio-ready beats and high-flying arena antics. Sonically, she’s a shape-shifter, applying her strong rasp to confidence-spiking rallying cries (“Don’t Let Me Get Me,” “F**kin’ Perfect”), kiss-off anthems (“So What,” “U + Ur Hand”), and sumptuous ballads (“Who Knew,” “Try”). But the throughline in all of Pink’s material has been her willingness to pierce the veil of celebrity with lyrics that talk about her low points — arguing with L.A. Reid over her career direction, dealing with the fallout from her parents’ divorce, agitation over an elected leader’s doublespeak.

Hurts 2B Human, her eighth album, implies a misery-fest. But Pink is far savvier than that. Instead she melds the pugilistic spirit that made her greatest hits stick with ideas borrowed from all over 2019’s pop map. Hurts’ stylistic breadth, linked from song to song by Pink’s world-weary yet optimistic outlook, makes it an enjoyable — and, at times, relatable — pop album from one of the Y2K pop boom’s veterans.

The most intriguing moments come when Pink flips the country-crossover ideal that artists like Maren Morris and Kacey Musgraves have been employing to their benefit over the past year; while they propelled themselves from country’s confines into pop’s more lady-friendly arena, Pink takes a few return trips on Hurts, showing how her true-to-life lyrics and soulful bellow can play in Nashville’s finest honky-tonks. “Love Me Anyway,” her duet with Chris Stapleton, pairs Pink’s roughhewn voice with a sweetly forlorn slide guitar, a contrast that packs a wallop even before Stapleton comes in for vocal harmonies. But the song would probably retain more of its punch if it laid off on the string section, which adds boldface and italics to the already intense back-and-forth the two engage in on the song’s extended outro.

In “The Last Song of Your Life,” a tour de force collaboration with her longtime creative partner Billy Mann, Pink’s voice cracks on the chorus as she dreams of rekindling the old days. “90 Days,” meanwhile, might be one of the most stunning songs she’s ever recorded. A duet with the singer-songwriter Wrabel, it’s urgent and desperate, an as-it-happens elegy for a doomed relationship set against a bleak background of piano and distant, robo-distorted vocals. It resists resolution in the same way that it resists classification. On the album, it’s in between “My Attic,” a bittersweet ode to long-kept secrets, and the title track, a duet with Gen Z poet laureate Khalid that celebrates life’s troughs as a way of bringing people closer together.

As with most Pink albums, the song-to-song shifts result in some misfires. “Hustle” lets Pink jump, jive, and wail her mission statement (“don’t try to hustle me”) over electro-swing that veers between stripped-down verses and blown-out, whoop-whoop-assisted choruses. “Courage” shines bright like a diamond while swinging from the chandelier — which is to say that it was co-written by Sia, making its chorus’ existential musings about having “the courage to change” an almost-too-easy punchline, even with Pink’s nervy vocal. Similarly, “(Hey Why) Miss You Sometime” is a mess of cultural references and vocal processing.

But those missteps are raised up by the solid material that surrounds it, like the groove-heavy “We Could Have It All” and “Happy,” in which a hummed hook provides the fulcrum for a looming therapy-session breakthrough — a very Pink flip of the sad-girl ideal. That’s how Pink has maintained her sky’s-the-limit outlook over the years: While she kicked off her career with the help of music-video stunt casting, her intense commitment to letting herself exist inside her music, warts and all, has kept her hovering in pop’s highest echelons for nearly two decades. B

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