This album marked a major turning point in Pink’s output, because it was here that she officially transformed into an Adult Contemporary singer. By all ordinary standards, this is a very good album…it’s immensely touching, full of memorable melodies, and Pink’s voice is actually better suited to this kind of music than to the Pop-Rock material she previously sang. The only context in which this qualifies as a disappointment is in terms of Pink’s career.
For some reason I can’t fathom, certain online critics have taken heavy issue with the album she released before this, 2012’s The Truth About Love, but it pretty much sounded like her usual material up to that point. Even the much-maligned single that she wrote for the Alice Through the Looking Glass soundtrack between the two albums, “Just Like Fire”, still maintained the sound and tone that had made her famous. But with this album, she transformed from a ferocious Pop-Rock spitfire to a Punk-tinged Celine Dion with better lyrics.
For one thing, apart from the fairly lightweight novelty duet with Eminem, “Revenge”, the album is nearly all ballads, with nothing remotely approaching the heaviness of “So What” or “Blow Me (One Last Kiss)”. But of course Pink has released any number of sad ballads before, from “Just Like a Pill” on her breakthrough release Missundaztood in 2002 to “Just Give Me a Reason” in 2013. What makes these ballads different is that before this, even on her saddest songs Pink never lost her air of defiance. The overall feel of this album is one of resignation, an emotion we all honestly never thought we’d see from Pink. It’s like after all these years, the fight just suddenly went out of her.
The only songs that even attempt a defiant tone are the album’s two political tracks, “What About Us?” and “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken”. I have defended these songs from critics who have found them too abstract in comparison to the more bluntly topical, Ani DiFranco-esque political song Pink released during the Bush administration, “Dear Mr. President”. I actually think these songs’ more poetic, Dylan-esque approach serves them better, not least because they will remain relevant to future conflicts in years to come while “Dear Mr. President” is already an irrelevant cultural relic even today.
But as much as I admire both these songs, I have to admit that neither of them really succeeds in striking the defiant note they seem to be searching for. “What About Us?” sounds like a dirge, an expression of despairing mourning for an entire nation of innocents. “Wild Hearts”, on the other hand, is more quixotic than defiant, a song that clearly believes there is no hope but is determined to go down fighting anyway. To be honest, I think the political situation she writes about is in large part responsible for her drastic change in style: I have no idea if her marriage is actually turbulent enough to provide the inspiration the dysfunctional relationship ballads heard on this album (for her sake, I certainly hope it isn’t), but I think she took the outcome of the 2016 presidential election really hard.
Whatever the reason, this album still qualifies as another great Pop album released in 2017—certainly far more interesting than its lukewarm 2019 follow-up, Hurts 2 Be Human. Apart from the two political songs, everything on the album may sound pretty much the same, but the melodies, the vocals and above all the deep and resonant sense of sorrow that pervades this album make it an extremely effective listening experience nonetheless. Still, it started Pink down a road that few thought was really right for her, and her work in the aftermath of that change seems to be bearing that assessment out.