You’d never want to reduce a Pink album strictly to the math, but the strength of her records tends to have a pretty strong correlation to two factors: the number of Max Martin/Shellback productions and the amount of F-bombs dropped. Now, put those two together, and it’s pure gold, but either one is a pretty good guarantor of quality. This isn’t to say that profanity for its own sake is any kind of sign, but in Pink’s case, it’s usually an indicator that she is letting her freak flag fly, among other F’s, and indulging in a stream of consciousness that feels like real talk, uncensored in its feisty disregard for the strictures of conventional, confessional lyricism, even as the aforementioned producer-scientist Swedes squeeze it all into the best and tightest forms of pop music.
Looking at “Hurts 2B Human,” then, the numbers don’t appear all that promising. There are only three songs in which Pink literally gives a “f—,” and only one where everyone’s favorite music doctors, Martin and Shellback, make a house call for their longtime client. These facts in themselves shouldn’t be completely worrisome, but maybe they do provide signposts that help to explain why her eighth album turns out to be her least interesting to date — coming only a year and a half on the heels of “Beautiful Trauma,” which was one of her best. The good news that one of the most estimable pop divas of our age has followed up such terrific work so quickly is tempered by the gnawing feeling that she’s using this relatively fast successor to come up with some less eccentric material that might solidify her position on radio.
But “Hurts 2B Human” might not be anything nearly that careerist. Maybe Pink is just fully embracing her status as an inspirational figure to women and girls, and she figures sanding some of the edges off her rough persona is one way to reach an even wider audience that could use the more toned-down self-help talk. She might even be right, and if the songs here motivate young people to reconsider how they think about themselves, who are we to complain if it’s the first Pink album so earnest in that endeavor that it doesn’t offer at least one good belly laugh?
Maybe part of it, too, is that Pink has mined her roller-coaster relationship with husband Carey Hart for so many fascinatingly turbulent songs and years now that she decided it was time to give that a break as writing fodder. It comes up for mention in heartfelt passing at least once — “Since I was 22 / I’ve been with somebody who loves me, and I’ve been trying to believe it’s true / But my head always messes up my heart no matter what I do” — and it’s probably no coincidence that the song, “Happy,” feels like Pink in her truest and most candid form. Over simple guitar strumming and her own lusciously multitracked vocals (along with those of co-writer Sasha Sloan), she takes stock of the years going by as the anxieties remain unchanged: “Since I was 17, I’ve always hated my body, and it feels like my body hated me,” later adding, “I don’t wanna be this way forever / Keep telling myself that I’ll get better.” Pink, who at 39 is about as good as it gets in representing pop, joins most of us in wondering: What if this is as good as it gets?
There are other standouts here, if nothing as anxiously grand as the last album’s “What About Us,” still one of the best singles of the decade. The delicately piano-driven “Circle Game,” produced by Greg Kurstin, is another childhood-lost ballad — a better version of the previous release’s “Barbies” — and songwriter Julia Michaels revisits the issues of “Issues” on Pink’s behalf with “My Attic.” Nostalgia for easier times reaches its apotheosis in the Ryan Tedder-co-produced “Can We Pretend,” in which she expresses nostalgia for her youth with a trace of otherwise absent humor: “Can we pretend that we both end up OK? … Can we pretend that we both like the president?” This is the Pink we know and love best: full of bursting emotions as big as all outdoors but not afraid to be a little peculiar from line to line.
But the title track, co-written and sung with Khalid, sounds as generic as any of the other moody, myriad collaborations the low-key R&B singer has done with female artists, and “Love Me Anyway,” billed as a duet with Chris Stapleton, doesn’t even bring the magisterial country singer in for his cameo till the wan tune is nearly over, a waste of what should’ve been a great teaming. The repetition of so many obvious lyrics on the album — the entire chorus of “Courage” is built around the line “Have I the courage to change?” — makes it seem as if some adviser looked at her past work and said, “Keep it simple, stupid.” The amount of emotion she puts into even the less worthy numbers reminds you why she remains one of our worthiest superstars. But you may find yourself missing the more idiosyncratic Pink who runs off at the mouth as much as she runs off at the heart.
“Hurts 2B Human”
Producers: Jorgen Odegard, Shellback & Max Martin, Peter Thomas & Kyle Moorman, The Struts, Steve Robson & Wrabel, Cash Cash & Ryan Tedder, Greg Kurstin, Oscar Görres, Pink, Billy Mann