Pink is a walking contradiction — the aggressively authentic rebel whose very first album went double platinum. The prickly outsider persona might seem disingenuous if it didn’t work so well for her. She initially topped charts by delivering catchy hits and a lot of distinct personality, but she remained there by bucking industry trends and retaining a core of authenticity to her work, essentially writing down whatever was in her head at the time.
For most of her career, her brand has been feisty, defiant pop with a rock sensibility, reliably catchy hooks, and a justified amount of ego and bravado. While she has stayed her course, her genre and indeed the whole industry have undergone massive shifts around her. Compared to the early aughts, it is much more difficult to nail down a “pop trend” in an era when the bounds of what is accessible have shifted so much and pop music has atomized accordingly. In an era of constant reinvention, Pink has stayed remarkably true to her roots, although her last album, Beautiful Trauma, began to show some cracks in the approach, ones that have remained visible on her latest offering, Hurts 2B Human (★★★).
The Pink we hear on this album is proud, laid back, and seemingly living her best life, although her preoccupation with the passage of time and her unease about the state of the world rears its head more than once. Before “Courage” reaches its crescendo, it starts as a distinctly melancholy piano ballad. “Can We Pretend” is equal parts hopeful and wistful, reflecting back on good times but always against the backdrop of a present reality that she hints is less than ideal. The album finds its reason for being on its first single, “Walk Me Home.” Pink nails the perfect combination of swagger and vulnerability with a stomping, triumphant yet still somehow intimate song pleading with someone to reconcile with her and be her bulwark against the dark.
Pink has also realized that having nearly two decades under her belt means that she gets to more or less have her pick of collabs, a perk which she takes full advantage of on H2BH. One of the major strengths of the album is that how well she has integrated the small yet eclectic mix of Khalid, Chris Stapleton, Wrabel and Cash Cash into the album. On “Love Me Anyway,” Chris Stapleton’s distinct vocals could easily have overwhelmed her, but instead they complement her surprisingly well. Stapleton fading into the background is really what allows this song to work, although a bit of country twang in the background is a nice nod to him. As collaborations go, Pink’s approach on this album is almost textbook-perfect. Each of the four featured artists lends their own flair to their respective tracks, but each one allows Pink to remain completely in the spotlight.
While the rest of H2BH is decent, it is hard to shake the feeling that she has been here before, giving us heavy doses of introspection, nostalgia, and ruminations on what it means to be happy. We have the defiant “don’t fuck with me” vibes of the opener “Hustle” and the above-it-all swagger of “(Hey Why) Miss You Sometime,” addressed to some unnamed person who hurt her, but not enough that she doesn’t miss him.
Pink just wouldn’t be Pink without her love of introspective confessionals, but here again she fails to deliver anything really memorable. Instead we get “Circle Game,” an aggressively literal piano ballad that examines the childhood vulnerabilities she has carried with her into adulthood, and “My Attic,” which uses the titular attic as a blunt metaphor for her memories.
H2BH is a well-crafted record, full of the gritty authenticity that we have come to expect from Pink, but underneath all of it is the sense that she has done most of this before. It is hard to fault her for doing what she is good at, and to call her approach up to this point stale would be unfair, since she has been consistently producing good material. This is still Pink we’re dealing with, after all, and there is not really a clunker on the whole album.
The real problem might be that the title track and “Walk Me Home” are just too good, standing as proof that Pink still has it in her to craft a truly remarkable standout hit. By comparison, the rest of the album seems formulaic, and even somewhat indulgent, as she delivers just enough truly fantastic moments to suggest that this album could have been much more than it was.
Hurts 2B Human can be purchased on Amazon.com and iTunes, and is available on most major streaming services.