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Pink takes a fearless step in a rock 'n' roll direction

I would love to party with Pink, and that makes me love her new album. If this sounds like dubious criteria for a critic, it's not. In a pop music landscape littered with boardroom-approved sex kittens and photo-ready rebels -- yes, Pink is all that, too -- the 24-year old singer has an actual personality. She's cheeky and funny and blunt, all of which infuses her third album, "Try This" (Arista), in stores today. When Pink announces she's trouble -- check out the disc's sassy first single -- we believe her. Imagine Christina or Britney, whose transformations from teen dreams into wild things smack more of a handler's vision than nature's call, pulling off a horn-stoked, throat-shredding tribute to Janis Joplin. Pink does on "Unwind," in part because she can sing a rock song and in part because her willingness to follow forays into R&B Lite (2000's "Take Me Home") and confessional dance-pop (2001's "M!ssundaztood") with attitude-soaked rock hooks reveals a fundamental fearlessness that simply can't be styled.

Pink's main collaborator on "Try This" is Rancid's Tim Armstrong, who co-wrote and produced eight of the album's 13 tracks. Pink harbors no pretensions of blazing new musical paths, and Armstrong does a brilliant job shaping unceremoniously catchy choruses that lasso Pink's supernatural energy. She's irascible in rejection on "Last to Know," a shame-

less seductress on "Oh My God" -- a collaboration with porn-rapper Peaches -- and a loud, proud homegirl in "Humble Neighborhoods." "God is a DJ," an irresistible slice of anthemic pop-rock, is powered by a buoyantly irreverent reduction of life's meaning to cutting loose on the dance floor. Unfortunately, Armstrong's commanding chain is broken by a string of weak links, courtesy of a handful of other producers. Linda Perry, who was deft at the helm for the bulk of "M!ssundaztood," stumbles with "Waiting for Love" -- a trippy, dippy power ballad -- and the middle-of-the-road soul tune "Catch Me While I'm Sleeping." Likewise, Damon Elliott's "Love Song" saps the crackle and snap that lifts much of Pink's third effort above the pop-rock fray.

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