River Deep, Freckle High

On her new album, Missundaztood, Pink loses a lot of the craft and rhythmic complication and She'kspere-Kandi-color of the first album.

Back on "There You Go" she'd gotten her consonants and assonances to wend their way precisely through She'kspere's complicated beats. ("So you say you wanna talk, let's talk; if you won't talk I'll walk," then echoes with "When I say, 'I'm through,' I'm through; basically I'm through with you.") Nothing on the new record makes her hew to such form and repetition, and she's poorer for it. The first album's "Is It Love" could be studied for how, in about 12 allotted lines, and through the device of telling her parents about a painful affair, she manages to convey not just the facts of the affair but her mistrust of her parents. On the new album this sort of craftsmanship goes out the window.

But on the first record, once you got past the two great hits and the too few other songs that Pink had a hand in writing or arranging, the thing got gray and nondescript. The new album has more good melodies, and the tracks she worked on with Linda Perry sound especially rich. The rhythms are more simplistic, but the music has a consistent spark.

And I root for Pink, since I find it appealing the way she's so self-consciously confused and at war with herself. The Britney Spears line isn't about congratulating herself for not being Britney but about her tearing herself to pieces, being a danger to herself, not knowing who she is. She doesn't like what she sees of herself in her mirror, so she's not simply saying, "There's a real me that's betterthan these other me's." Maybe this is one of the meanings of the pink in her hair: not just that she's letting her freak flag fly, but that she's in progress, unknown, not what you'd expect, not fully formed. The trouble is, her lyrics vague out too much. She's a danger to herself but she doesn't describe the danger. She doesn't show us what's in that mirror. And this is typical. A dear-diary song where she tells her secrets to the diary but not to us, allusions to high school where she doesn't say what went on in the school, and so forth. And then there's a family-drama song that has the opposite problem: She gives us the details, her as a kid begging her divorcing parents not to split up, telling them she'll be good and go to bed on time and not spill the milk. Bound to bring a lump to the throat of anyone whose family is breaking up, anyone whose family has broken up, or anyone whose family hopes to break up, but she makes her one point over and over, leading us by the nose.

That said, most of the songs actually work, not only because the music and singing make up for what the words don't deliver, but because there is a rough force to the words themselves. They at least aim somewhere interesting. For instance, the allusion to school suggests both pride in the fact that she was unmanageable and sorrow in the fact that she was so pigheaded that she screwed everything up. And the diary song is touching in the way it repeats "Dear, dear diary/I wanna tell my secrets/'Cause you're the only one/that I know will keep them." I hope this becomes a single and gets on Top 40 and Radio Disney, where teen and pre-teen girls with their precious secrets can hear it. I guess the diary song works on its own terms—you can'treally tell the secrets.

R&b and hip-hop are about 100 times more interesting than rock is these days, but I can see why Pink made the jump to rock, given that, following r&b conventions, "Most Girls" and "There You Go" pretend to know what's what, whereas Pink is someone who's messing around and screwing up and not claiming to know, and rock gives her the opportunity to be a mess. Of course, hip-hop, too, has fabulous messmakers—Eminem and Ol' Dirty Bastard, for instance. But all the great hip-hop messups are guys. Even if Pink had the skill to be a female Eminem, she probably wouldn't be welcome. Anyway, she'd be the first, whereas in rock she has female models and mentors.

I wish there were a way for her to combine the brains and craft of the first album with the mess and spirit of the second, because she needs both. "That just ain't me" is a sappy way to talk about something that isn't sappy at all. You know, anyone who starts eating with her hands during an etiquette lecture has an instinct for metaphor. If only she'd use it, throw away the abstractions, start using words and music not to label her problems but to act them out. First track on her first album, she'd used r&b call-and-response to get into arguments with herself. I don't see why she can't do it again. Not just claim she's torn up, but tear up the songs, instead. Tear usup.

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