CD Review of Funhouse by P!nk
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Label
LaFace
P!nk: Funhouse

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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W
hen she surfaced with her 2000 debut, Can’t Take Me Home, P!nk (exclamation point instead of an ‘i,’ please. Signed, P!nk’s publicist) was packaged as a brash, more strident alternative to the late-‘90s wave of prepackaged teen-pop starlets – a sort of anti-Britney, if you will. It was an apt enough summary, in some ways, but it didn’t really scratch the surface of P!nk’s talent – or an artistic persona that combined the androgynous sex appeal of Annie Lennox with Pat Benatar’s cathedral-scraping pipes and the brash outspokenness of Roseanne Barr. It’s an unwieldy combination, and one that isn’t nearly as easy to promote as that whole virgin/whore thing, which is probably why no two P!nk albums sound exactly alike – and why she’s avoided the sort of career-crushing hype and expectations suffered by many of those aforementioned starlets. She just releases an album every two or three years, sends a couple of singles into the Top 40, and moves on to the next chapter.

And here, two years after I’m Not Dead, comes P!nk’s fifth album, the sarcastically titled Funhouse (her first choice was Heartbreak is a Motherfucker, but that was vetoed for some strange reason), inspired largely by the breakup of her marriage to motocross star Carey Hart. It’s got a dozen songs and lists a mind-boggling 30 producers – but if combining old-fashioned singer/songwriter grist and newfangled assembly-line recording techniques sounds like a train wreck waiting to happen, don’t worry; when it’s all said and done, this sounds like nothing so much as, well, a P!nk album.

Funhouse isn’t as free-spirited as I’m Not Dead, which featured everything from a political rant with backing vocals by the Indigo Girls to “U + Ur Hand,” which became a runaway hit and turned into a sort of zeitgeist-riding dance-pop version of “Goodbye Earl” – but what it lacks in breadth, it gains in focus. As countless songwriters have discovered, the dissolution of a serious relationship can create a nearly bottomless artistic well, and here, P!nk returns to the subject of heartbreak again and again, alternating between cathartic kiss-offs (“So What,” “Bad Influence”) and tearstained ballads (“Please Don’t Leave Me,” “Glitter in the Air”). Musically, it mines the same largely mechanized pop territory P!nk has always favored, which makes sense, as she’s retained the services of collaborators Max Martin, Butch Walker, and Kara DioGuardi. The lyrics are unsurprisingly rude, and the vocals are among the rawest of her career, but P!nk has always understood the art of wrapping bluntly confessional songs in shiny packaging, and Funhouse repeats the formula.

Pink

This isn’t really a bad thing. Inasmuch as you can’t ever shake the feeling that P!nk could carry a decent stripped-down blues or rock album if she wanted to – and even though the wall-to-wall brightness of the album’s brittle pop production is occasionally suffocating – Funhouse deftly moves between poppy rockers and ballads often enough to keep things interesting, and the killer/filler ratio runs at a steady 70-75% percent, which is something close to astounding in the modern major-label marketplace. Best of all, in a genre that often finds artists going to absurd lengths to top their previous efforts every time out, Funhouse finds P!nk actually sounding like she’s having fun. Rare is the artist who can sit on top of multiple Grammies, millions of records sold, and an impressive array of Top 40 hits without feeling self-conscious. She might not have gotten the hang of marriage, but as this album makes clear, P!nk knows exactly what she’s doing with her career.

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