Art elicits instantaneous reactions from its audience—music, in particular, takes time to settle in. But if you’re a critic, those judgments aren’t always given the benefit of time, due to deadlines and record labels stingy with advances. Not only does this speak to our frequent knee-jerk reactions, but to an album’s ability to ripen with repeat listens, a surefire sign of a truly great pop record. Flaws are inherent, but the songs and performances are irrefutable. Recent examples include Kelly Clarkson’s Breakaway and Liz Phair’s critically panned self-titled release from 2003, both of which I bumped up half a star after giving them reluctant endorsements—further proof that ratings, like the opinions that inform them, are malleable and should be taken with a grain of salt.
Add Pink’s I’m Not Dead to that list. It’s probably no coincidence that all three of these albums feature the watered-down radio-friendly pop-rock made popular by Avril Lavigne a few years back; it’s a subset of a subgenre that irks me to no end, and yet, when done well, I can’t seem to resist giving in to. It’s nowhere near as daring a move as the smash Missundaztood and its sadly ignored follow-up Try This, and it’s arguably a step back for the singer, but whittled down to its nine uptempo rockers (the ballads are pretty but skippable), I’m Not Dead is a consistent, gratifying listen.
In case her new album’s title hasn’t tipped you off yet, Pink wants you to know she’s not dead. At least that’s what the banner that dwarfed the tiny stage at downtown New York’s Webster Hall said last night. The venue, though surprisingly small for an artist who’s sold in excess of eight million albums in the U.S. alone, provided an intimate setting for the bottle-blonde’s low-budget, no-frills show. CBGB would have been even more fitting: Pink isn’t exactly “punk” but she’s about as close as we’ve gotten in the pop world. At least since Debbie Harry.
Sporting black shades, a whip, and a dress fit for the prom she never made it to, Pink evoked another legendary blonde (who was probably simultaneously cracking her horse-riding crop at a slightly larger venue uptown) as she strutted onto the stage for her opening number “Cuz I Can,” but the props were quickly traded in for good ol’ fashioned rock n’ roll debauchery. An admitted disciple of Madonna, she caressed her womanly parts, rolled on the ground, and flipped the bird throughout the 15-song set, which was heavy on tracks from Missundaztood and the new album but practically ignored Try This and her early urban-leaning days (she performed only one song from each).
Focusing on her 5x-platinum sophomore effort was a lucid move (aside from a cover of 4 Non Blondes’s “What’s Up,” the Missundaztood hits were the biggest crowd pleasers), but the night only displayed one side of the artist—the rock-lite side. And her mismatched band-for-hire was a mess, at least aesthetically: the backup singer and bassist, who looked like she might suffer whiplash at the velocity and frequency with which she thrashed her multi-colored hair around, apparently thought they were backing Stevie Nicks circa 1982, while the long, curly-haired guitarist was a few Frampton-esque facial contortions away from Spinal Tap. There was no consistency among the bunch and, seemingly, not much thought was put into their assembly (a request for “U + Ur Hand” was denied because the band didn’t know it).
Luckily, Pink’s stage presence and raw, rockist vocal ability—she’s still one of the best singers to come out of the Y2K diva explosion—was enough to carry the show. She was talkative and funny, taking beer and cigarettes from the audience (but stopping short of talking to a front row fan’s friend on the phone), and sending mea culpa winks toward her mother in the balcony during songs like “Family Portrait” and “Don’t Let Me Get Me.” The evening’s best moments came during a raucous, tongue-in-cheek performance of “Stupid Girls” and another catchy new song, “Leave Me Alone (I’m Lonely),” during which she displayed some deft Pretty in Pink-era dance moves.
Unfortunately, an acoustic mini-set during the encore killed the show’s momentum. Though it would have helped if they were placed much earlier in the set, “The One That Got Away” and “Dear Mr. President” still aren’t very good. They’re the weakest songs on I’m Not Dead, and while “President” is a nice sentiment, I can’t help but feel that Pink is much smarter than lyrics like “How can you say ’no child is left behind’?/We’re not dumb and we’re not blind.” But like the album it supports, Pink’s stage show is mostly a good time if you focus on the uptempo stuff, and it’s consistently gratifying in spite of its flaws.