P!nk’s last album, The Truth About Love, was a revelation to this rock n’ roll fan. On it, P!nk rocked harder and sang more meaningfully than any rock band I’d heard in years.
I’d always known that she was good, yet this was even greater than she’d ever promised. It was a concept album that never got pretentious with it, it was a relentless barrage of ingenious pop hooks tied to a “don’t fuck with me” punk persona, and it contained a devilishly clever song title with “Blow Me (One Last Kiss)”. Overall, it was so smart and entertaining it convinced me that the future of rock n’ roll lay with women.
It’s taken a full five years for a sequel to emerge, and sadly this P!nk superfan is left disappointed. Beautiful Trauma is P!nk’s most ballad-heavy work to date, and suffers mightily from it. The pace is too sluggish across its 51 minutes. There are too many piano-and-vocals cuts that sound like half-baked demos.
Strings occasionally crop up to push the melodrama even further over the top than the lyrics and vocals already manage. P!nk just doesn’t sound like such a badass any more, which would be fine if she showed maturity in other areas, but as her voice strains to convey ‘serious’ emotions it causes this listener’s mind to drift. Where’s the humour, the authority, the intelligence, and the punky pizzazz, I’m left to wonder?
Ah, there it is. “Revenge” is every bit as good as you would expect a collaboration with Eminem to be, pitting the two greats against each other in a springy piece of battle-of-the-sexes fun. P!nk raps on the first couple of verses and gets away with it, and Em shows her respect as an artist by not trying to outdo her when he takes the mic. It sounds like they’re having a friendly ball in the studio, and that infectiousness rubs off, making it one of the most upbeat songs you’ll ever hear about the title emotion. Revenge is sweet indeed.
There are other moments of excellence. The way P!nk curls her voice around the title phrase in “Whatever You Want” has many layers of satisfaction. The way the tempo picks up in the chorus of “I Am Here” is a neat little trick that works every time. “What About Us” has a curious power when you interpret it as an anti-Trump rallying cry. “Beautiful Trauma” is a pretty great oxymoronic description of love, one that reminds me of a line from an earlier (and better) song: ‘I really hate you/So much I think it must be true love.’
But in order to get to these pockets of interest you have to wade through many minutes of treacly sludge. “But We Lost It” and “Barbies” appear consecutively, and together they form perhaps her worst moment on record. The mindless childhood nostalgia of “Barbies” is particularly offensive, especially when coated in a self-indulgent acoustic arrangement. I don’t expect just plain dumb from P!nk.
Meanwhile the other tracks blur into an indistinguishable, sentimental mess, with a special shout-out to “You Get My Love” for managing to stretch its melodic banality out past 5 minutes, ending the album on a low. Enough with the pianos already!
I have absolutely no right to dictate what music P!nk, or any other musician, should produce. They should be able to follow their muse, whenever and wherever it leads them. However, I can’t pretend to be on board with P!nk’s latest incarnation, in which she’s ditched much of the punky attitude that’s always been so invigorating, and given her pop a softer, less abrasive edge. The ballads were always the worst songs on her albums, and Beautiful Trauma is full of them. Which is a big problem: it’s just not beautiful or traumatic enough.
Never mind, play The Truth About Love instead.