Pink Weaves ‘Beautiful Trauma’ and Political Upheaval on New Album: Review
The right to peaceful protest is the backbone of a free world, and when an administration goes sideways, the power is the people’s burden. Art becomes the lens through which partisan bickering is dismantled and reduced to bare-bones humanity, and between Billie Holiday, who protested widespread lynching of African Americans with “Strange Fruit," Woody Guthrie, who combated McCarthyism across a string of revolutionary compositions (“This Land is Your Land” among them) and Jimi Hendrix, who targeted the Vietnam War with a “Machine Gun,” the history of protest music, much like history itself, is destined to repeat itself.
And Pink's extending the legacy.
“It’s the start of us waking up, come on,” she cries on her call-to-arms anthem “What About Us,” the lead single from Beautiful Trauma (out today, October 13). The music video is lit from the inside out, serving as a harrowing depiction of President Trump’s erratic demeanor and his victims’ brokenness.
The album, Pink's first in five years, is grounded in reality. It’s as much a political battle cry as it is a tear-soaked love letter to herself (she touches on her tumultuous relationship with husband Carey Hart). If fans are looking for a return to the spunky, loud-mouth party girl of the past, you won’t find much of that here — the 13-track LP, on which Moore penned all but one song herself, is woven together with fleeting innocence, ripened womanhood and a primal fire.
Beautiful Trauma's antecedent, 2012’s The Truth About Love, was a mixed bag and was met with lukewarm reviews. A handful of hits, including the Nate Ruess-assisted “Just Give Me a Reason” and “Try,” carried her into the next two years, but a follow-up seemed just out of grasp. Still, Pink is the kind of character to not give a s---: She’s reached legacy status, selling out arenas and collecting plenty of royalty checks from her expansive catalog. Beautiful Trauma is an imperative reminder of not only her exquisite vocal licks, which are often framed around minimalistic production (owed to producers Jack Antonoff, Greg Kurstin, Tobias Jesso Jr., Shellback and Max Martin), but life’s severe duality. “Life is f------ traumatic,” she recently tweeted, illustrating the double-edged grit she wields so poignantly throughout the project.
“I feel like our ship’s going down tonight / It’s always the darkest before the light,” she bemoans on "Whatever You Want," evoking a finespun hardness for change. The cunning intricacies trap her primal instincts between explicit remarks and subtle winks. “Did we shoot too high and spoil like wine?” she later provokes on “But We Lost It,” piano abetting her mangled heart strings. Finally, there's no preparing for closer track "You Get My Love," a mournful torch ballad which stands as Moore’s finest moment ever. “You used to try to wake the beast in me / There is still a very sleepy part of me inside / I’ve been waiting to come alive…” she sings, exposing her every raw nerve. “But you get my love, baby / You get my love / There’s only one thing about me that you can trust.”
Beautiful Trauma is beautifully paced and toes the line of personal beauty and universal trauma. “Freeze frame. Pause. Rewind. Stop,” she sings on “For Now” with punctuated jabs. She attempts to catch the sands of time between her fingertips, idealizing the lethal relationship like a bottle of strawberry wine. “There’s nothing but you, my perfect rock bottom,” she sips on the titular cut, which pins the assorted stylistic tone in place.
“Revenge” follows furiously behind and comes as close to her trademark no-f---- temperament as she gets on the record. Teaming up once again with longtime collaborator Eminem, the pair own the song’s flippant silliness. “Like Leo in ‘The Revenant,’ Abel in that Bible bit / Revenge is sweet, isn't it? / I really, really hope for it,” she retorts on the first verse. “I know that it won't fix a thing, a song like this that I could sing for you.” Later, Eminem hops into the fray, laced with bittersweet retribution: “When you're driving, driving to his house / And you pass me while I'm driving to hers / Just remember, you cheated on me first / You're a whore, you're a whore / This is war, fellas, ladies.”
Folded into the album's tones are somber meditations about today’s deplorable statecraft. Moore yearns for her innocence with the achingly gorgeous “Barbies,” in which she craves youth and naïveté over acoustic guitar, orchestral strings and quivering, tribal drums. “I wish I could back to playing with barbies in my room / They never say you got to grow up quite this soon,” she sings, repurposing her angsty, bleeding heart for a comment on the world.
“I Am Here,” a gospel-soaked track, preaches the need to feel that pain in all its glorious needle stabs. “I’ve already seen the bottom, so there’s nothing to fear / I know I’ll be ready when the devil is near,” she prayers. The obvious comparison is to Beyonce’s equally-stunning “I was Here,” borrowing that animalistic ferociousness of choosing to truly live despite stormy weather.
Another crown jewel of Beautiful Trauma comes with “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken,” a devastatingly simple warble focusing on marginalized individuals, the “wild ones” scavenging disastrous policy changes, socioeconomic defeats and bigotry. “I will have to die for this, I fear,” Pink sings, addressing her penchant for activism. “I fight because I have to / I fight for us to know the truth."
In the LP's accompanying Apple Music film, On the Record: P!nk ⎯⎯ Beautiful Trauma, Moore’s manager Roger Davies claims the record is “just a continuation of the previous records.” That’s not entirely untrue; Moore does often revisit crucial stylistic linchpins. But Beautiful Trauma works so well as a stunningly evocative, evolutionary body of work, nearly as effective as 2006’s I’m Not Dead. For someone this deep into her career, she continues finding new layers, new stories, new emotions to explore with a healthy mix of reckless anthems and raging ballads.
She’s certainly not dead ⎯⎯ and she’s not going anywhere for a very, very long time.
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