Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Hollaback Grrrl

***1/2

PINK
I'm Not Dead
LaFace

Pink dumps punk, pulls out all the pop stops

The striking, confident, emotional I'm Not Dead could be make-or-break for the spunky shorty who in 2001 collaborated with Linda Perry on teen pop's best pass at a great album, M!issundaztood. Outselling Justin Timberlake if not 'N Sync by shifting effortlessly from dancefloor sure-shot to tough talk to raw confession, M!ssundaztood soon had Christina Aguilera and Gwen Stefani hiring Perry. Pink, however, chose a rockier path, staking her claim to outside-the-box smarts by enlisting Rancid punk Tim Armstrong for 2003's Try This, which tanked--single rather than quintuple platinum, no "Family Portrait" or "Get the Party Started." Soon Pink began looking kinda B-list. A Janis Joplin biopic was shelved, reducing her Hollywood prospects to an arty horror flick. She had a fling with Tommy Lee before finally wedding her longtime beau, motocross racer Carey Hart.

With rock collaborators in her past, Pink here executive-produces a package punched up by proven song doctors from Stockholm's Max Martin to her new main man, Philly homeboy Milly Mann. It opens with two punky piss-off songs, one for a guy and one for her bimbo-pop rivals ("Whatever happened to the dream of a girl president?"), with two even better ones later--"Cuz I Can"'s jubilant "I talk shit just deal with it" sums her up. These are undercut by four pieces of mid-tempo bombast, including a title tune that is not about her career. The confessional masterstroke about a magic night with a gay guy was composed entirely by Mann. The Vietnam song was penned by her dad, an amateur musician and Vietnam vet. But Pink co-wrote the bluntly insulting if imperfectly informed "Dear Mr. President." This protest could be annoying in a folk club. In a mass-pop setting, however, it's powerful and brave. Today's hit parade being what it is, this CD won't necessarily right Pink's career. But take her off the B-list anyway.

Blender, Apr. 2006