Let's be honest: Despite the perceived sensitivity injection (courtesy of tear-stained emo and indie artists), radio is no more welcoming to female musicians now than it was during the days of frat-mook nü-metal well, not to female musicians of substance, at least. Save for Kelly Clarkson and KT Tunstall, modern airwave starlets show more skin than intellect.
Who suffers most from this narrowing of gender roles? Female artists doing their own thing, naturally. Take Pink. For a time, her insistence on individuality reaped dividends; witness her transformation from faceless Top 40 diva to colorful icon with 2001's M!ssundaztood. But when she co-wrote tunes with Rancid's Tim Armstrong and enlisted Billy Idol guitarist Steve Stevens for 2003's rock-oriented Try This, the album barely made a ripple in the culture's consciousness.
With I'm Not Dead, Pink rediscovers her pure-pop roots, having enlisted noted teen-dream scribe Max Martin and glossy-rock vet Butch Walker for musical help. But the results are as varied and as atypically "pop" as This. For every Kelly Clarkson-esque rock-popper, stylistic curve balls abound; "'Cuz I Can" explodes like a shower of disco-glam glitter, "Leave Me Alone" is Killers-esque, and "The One That Got Away" shows off Pink's rust-colored, bluesy wail.
While the album's numerous piano ballads are a little too syrupy to swallow (the Indigo Girls-starring "Dear Mr. President" in particular), I'm Not Dead is smarter-than-average music. It's emotionally multidimensional; in other words, not an escape from reality but a reflection of its imperfections.
Capturing life's giddy highs and lows is what Boston rockers Damone excelled at on their woefully underexposed 2003 debut, From the Attic, a disc full of bubblegum-punk ditties about teenage ennui and innocent love. Like Pink, Damone vocalist Noelle LeBlanc isn't typical for her genre; her girlish-without-being-girly yelps ensure that. But unlike many groups, Damone doesn't make LeBlanc's gender the focal point of the music, as evidenced on the superb Out Here All Night. While a few tunes perpetuate Attic's New Wave fizz (the Valley Girl soundtrack-esque highlight "You're the One," power-pop bounce "On Your Speakers"), crunching metal and ballsy classic rock indebted to Mötley Crüe, KISS, and Pat Benatar dominate. Night is rock for tomboys who'd rather practice air guitar than go shopping. And Damone suffers commercially for this. They're not macho enough to hang with brute-force metalheads but not tarted-up enough to be Ozzfest pinups, either. It's a misfit situation Pink knows all too well. I don't want to be a stupid girl, she sings on Dead's attention-getting single, "Stupid Girls." The sad thing is, if she were one, she'd probably be multiplatinum by now.
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