Hear Me Out: Pink's Defiant Disappointment

By Chris Azzopardi

Pink, 'The Truth About Love'

In a world ruled by artificial pop princesses, Pink has always approached her music with real-woman candor, whether she's slamming horny dudes at the bar or singing a true-life tale about her parents' divorce. But this hell-raiser act, which extends through her catchy-but-safe seventh album, is turning cocky into caricature. "The Truth About Love" wants so hard to convince the world that Pink, who had a kid not long ago, is still the biggest badass on the block that it spends so much time proving a point when it should be using Pink's mighty ways as a singer and songwriter to crush the competition. (We know she can.) The potty mouth, the man put-downs (she tells him, cheekily, to blow her) and a duet with another often-misunderstood musician, Eminem - we get it; she's still a punk. Though Pink at her most "punk" was on the fierce commercial-dud "Try This," released nearly 10 years ago, it's clear record execs won't let this one suffer the same fate: Second single "Try" fetches a generic credo of perseverance but has a cool grunge sound, while "Walk of Shame," about a one-night stand, is goofy super-pop that's a lot of fun. But Pink, who has made catchier songs about jerking off, is better than "Slut Like You." Her deftness is demonstrated on "Beam Me Up," where she lets down her guard for a needy moment of vulnerable release. It's just too bad how hard "The Truth About Love" tries to be another "Funhouse," turning Pink into a brand instead of the artist she always seemed destined to be. Grade: C+

Barbra Streisand, 'Release Me'

There's a predictability to Babs that's like comfort food: Her rainy-day music tends to require a box of tissue, and she sings with the same passion, precision and power that made the Brooklyn girl a star over 40 years ago. Simply put, there's no one else like her in this smoke-and-mirrors music industry. Not even Adele possesses the same purity as Babs. "Release Me," spanning decades as it reaches back into her song catalog for 11 previously unreleased tracks, is a testament to her reign as a vocal luminary who's not just stood the test of time, but stands taller as the years go by. But even in 1971, during her "Stoney End" era, Streisand's capabilities were so absolute that her cover of Randy Newman's "I Think It's Going to Rain Today" was cut in one take, with a simple reading over Newman's piano that preserves the melancholic sorrow of the song without overdoing it. Better than Bette's version from "Beaches"? Not when it comes to heart. "Being Good Isn't Good Enough," from the 1967 Broadway musical "Hallelujah, Baby!" about equality, goes all diva with an escalating orchestra that finally crescendos as Babs sings her butt off. It's also refreshing to hear Streisand, who's gone the contemporary love-song route, take on a song as theatrically thrilling as her up-tempo version of "Home" from "The Wiz." The song never made "The Broadway Album" as planned - but it's here, and it's glorious. Grade: B+

Also Out

Ryan Bingham, 'Tomorrowland'

Never mind that Ryan Bingham won an Oscar for his fragile folk song "The Weary Kind" from "Crazy Heart"; he's a new man who's, well, not so weary. At least by the sound of his new DIY disc, where he's without his signature band and former label. He rocks hard on "Beg for Broken Legs" with his usual gruffness but also a fiery attitude that's almost inspiring. His heart, however, hasn't strayed too far: "Never Far Behind" ruminates quite poignantly on the difficulty of moving on from a family member's suicide. If "Tomorrowland" wasn't so rooted in yesterday's rock, that awards mantle could be looking a lot fuller.

Pet Shop Boys, 'Elysium'

On "Your Early Stuff," Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe - aka Pet Shop Boys - recall a conversation with a cab driver who thought the U.K. duo was done for, but admired their '80s work. Since their 11th album tends to drag - its chill-out vibe could really use a few more hits of adrenaline, and the songs aren't nearly as memorable as their classic stuff - who can blame the guy for wishing they were still in their prime, singing about West End Girls? But the Pet Shop Boys still pull off some splendid moments of loungetronica: "Hold On" is a gospel beauty, and the dry-witted "Ego Music" satires celebrity vanity. Otherwise, though, it'll have you turning to the early stuff.

Chris Azzopardi is the editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBT wire service. Reach him via his website at http://www.chris-azzopardi.com.

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