The rare teenpop tour de force that defines itself by what it can’t figure out rather than what it assumes you want it to tell you, Pink’s anti-Paris, anti-Bush, anti-teenpop manifesto was TV filler before it had time to tank-or-not. Matt Lauer even declared her a pop star like none we’ve ever seen. The first part is true only in a loose sense. But an American Morning panel of young girls declaring Not Dead Yet both comforting and instructive undercuts the idea that stardom is any measure of success anyway. Naturally, most media enthusiasm for the anti-objectification single “Stupid Girls” quickly devolves into more proof that the greatest weapon in the war against blonde women is other blonde women. Nicer people have sussed out the humanity.
In Rolling Stone, Barry Walters distinguishes the album as “ambitious” and indeed, Pink sets out to do nothing less than redefine a moment in the human life cycle—that last emotional nanosecond in the scary descent from idealized American subject-citizen (fetus) to ideal American object–cash crop (self-conscious consumer). “Loud Guitar” presets, dance-punk basslines, and grown ‘n’ conscious folk ballads signify maturation, but Pink’s goal is to deke out the music she couldn’t transcend by demo-shifting down instead of growing up. For a couple hundred thousand or so 10-year-olds soon to enter hell, this could be The Clash. Or at least a first soul-moistening bath in the aesthetic flop sweat of good intentions gone screwy.
Not unlike like the early Clash, Pink’s wisdom, such as it is, barrels forth from a Nietzschean power-surge of inspired confusion. Beyond “Stupid Girls,” which creates a positive by listing predictive negatives (hey, 10-year-olds, don’t get boob jobs!), it’s hard to discern what ethical certainty one would divine from a WWPD candy bracelet. Pink would: tell you (along with her “13-year-old self”) that all you ever need is you (plus maybe a timbale), get drunk and convince herself she’s famous, call her “friend” Christina an idiot, attack negative body imaging like a junior high health teacher then go and put her ass crack on the back of her record, be craven, strong, pathetic, annoying, and also maybe a lesbian. This goes beyond recapping the “complicated” image she rode in on. She stares into the abyss and the abyss says, “Tear down the patriarchy, sort of, but definitely lay off the simple carbs. And stop staring into me! I’m the abyss!” This sense of all-too-human auto-bumfuzzlement is emboldened by Not Dead Yet‘s stunningly ass-backward theory of how to make a viable pop album in our unfortunate millennium, a stylistic dyslexia so grandiose it explodes traditional conceptions of “quality” altogether.
The most sensible track is e-mailed in from Max Martin, a man so proud he’ll go to the A-list stuff even when your record might fall in the well. Martin’s “U & Ur Hand” is a feminist “Get the Party Started,” redone by Quiet Riot if they were Smurfs. “Who Knew” is Pink’s version of Kelly Clarkson doing Karen O, or Gwen if she got a DUI in Silver Lake. “Long Way to Happy” is fuzz-toned folk-rock with Wu-tinkle piano bursting into self-help Lilith-metal. Ballad time comes early, weird, and like a hurricane. Linda Perry–esque piano shamestorm? Check. Advice letter to the president penned with the Indigo Girls where Pink for some reason assumes Laura Bush has a soul? It would appear so. Advice letter to her seventh-grade self? Woodstock-era how-many-roads folk song written by her Vietnam vet father? Yes. Yes. As the man on the Titanic said as he strapped on his galoshes, it really is all quite something. But the last one is a truly special moment in America’s long tortured history of trying not to be retarded. Somewhere, someday—maybe today—a wee troubled tween will throw down that Blackberry and wander forth from her bedroom cage asking: “Daddy, what’s Vietnam?” If we only we knew, Virginia, if only we knew.