DISC REVIEW: I'm not dead

Pink is today one of the most startlingly bold artists on the pop musical landscape.

pink 88 (photo credit: )
pink 88
(photo credit: )
PINK I'm Not Dead (Hed Artzi) Long ago having shed her pink-haired teen persona, Pink is today one of the most startlingly bold artists on the pop musical landscape. And within that framework, I'm Not Dead raises the bar for versatility, daringness, and ingenuity. Following the undeserved lackluster sales of 2003's Try This, Pink refuses to kowtow to the sure-fire, crowd-pleasing, early dance pop of hits like "Get the Party Started." Instead, I'm Not Dead is a genre-crashing, boundary-blurring barrel of fun that utilizes dance and electronic beats, but also incorporates everything from crunching power pop to bluesy folk-rock. Sassy and boastful like a seasoned hip hopper, Pink also has singer-songwriter smarts, along with an amazingly soulful voice. If Janis Joplin had come of age today, having been informed by everyone from MTV, Madonna, and No Doubt, to The Pretenders, Bonnie Raitt, and Garbage, she might have sounded a lot like the music on I'm Not Dead. Certainly Pink shows off vocal chops comparable to the legendary blues wailer on the acoustic folk-blues of "The One That Got Away" and the steady, R&B groove of "Nobody Knowz." If some of the songs - like "Long Way to Happy" and "Who Knew" fit too easily into the hook-laden anthemic chorus model of Kelly Clarkson - the bulk of the material stretches Pink's talents beyond the norm. "Leave Me Alone (I'm Lonely)" is an hilarious, power pop expletive-filled musical answer to the old camp 60s classic by Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks - "How Can I Miss You if You Don't Go Away?" And the title song - perhaps a typically brash career observation/prediction - incorporates echoes of artiness a la Kate Bush in its ethereal chorus. What stands out on I'm Not Dead more than on any previous Pink release is how much of a paradox she is. She can take on issues and personalities from plastic celebrities like Paris Hilton in the revved up hit single "Stupid Girls," to a character assassination of George W. Bush in the folky "Dear Mr. President" (with harmony vocals by The Indigo Girls) - while unabashedly showing butt cleavage on the CD cover and generously dropping 'Fbombs' in her lyrics like a New York dock worker. As she sings in the justifiably self-confident "Cuz I Can," "I don't play your rules, I make my own." Listeners better pick up her new rulebook. DONALD FAGEN Morph the Cat (Hed Artzi) Steely Dan's co-founder Donald Fagen returns with his first solo album since his band's resurgence in the 21st century (following 1982's The Nightfly and 1993's Kamakiriad). And it's virtually interchangeable with those previous efforts, as well as Dan's two postcomeback releases - 2001's Two Against Nature and 2003's Everything Must Go. Heavy on groove, with the same relaxed 4/4 beat on every song, the songs on Morph the Cat contain what we've come to expect from Fagen - wittily obtuse lyrics, exemplary musicianship and soloing, and sense of style. Within one bar of each song, listeners will be able to "name the artist," Fagen's style is so easily identifiable and ingrained into the pop consciousness. Which could be another way to say, Morph the Cat is kind of… boring. One standout is "What I Do," a clever conversation between a younger version of Fagen and the ghost of Ray Charles, with lines like "If you can't dance by now, The Raelettes will show you how, It's what I do." If literary wordplay and tasteful jazz-inflected pop is what you're looking for, Morph the Cat has it in spades. Fans of Fagen and latter-day Steely Dan won't be disappointed. Anyone else might prefer this as background music.