Raw Power 

New singles by bad-girls P!nk and Courtney save rock from itself

New singles by bad-girls P!nk and Courtney save rock from itself

P!nk, the pop-star moniker of Philadelphia-born Alecia Moore, should understand the irony Courtney Love employs in the title of her new album, America’s Sweetheart. Both women know they’re the antithesis of the preciousness and purity that the phrase connotes.

The two bleached-out, mascara-smeared rockers exult in their roles as rebels. They’re also both media obsessives driven to public spectacles, in part because it gives them the attention they crave. They pose as gutter punks, not because they reject society, but because they want the headlines and spotlight that they know their chaotic lives will attract.

Love is the one who’s gotten away with more while offering less. Counting her two albums with her band Hole, America’s Sweetheart is only Love’s third collection of songs in barely a decade. Almost predictably, just as the album was being packaged for release, she got arrested for illegal possession of painkillers after rousing police by breaking the windows of an ex-boyfriend’s home in the middle of the night.

P!nk’s a worthy acolyte, showing up drunk onstage to accept awards while carrying a drink made from liquor poured out of her purse. She keeps a bullhorn in her home to shout down her motocross-champ boyfriend during arguments, and in interviews and in lyrics she openly discusses her troubled youth, her ongoing problems with relationships and the near-madness that pulses through her small, live-wire body.

Love and P!nk also have two of the best singles on the radio now, and both records speak to how music has saved their souls. Like her previous hit “Get This Party Started,” P!nk’s “God Is a DJ” draws on her own life and excesses to portray a woman who finds empowerment and escape in the musical nightlife. She’s still the trouble child, admitting she’s the girl with the middle finger in the air while expressing love for her mother, hate for her father and casting a quick “fuck you” toward her boyfriend. The last of these is bleeped from airplay of the song and video.

P!nk is still M!ssundaztood, as she put it in the title of her 2002 album, but she’s still shaking her woes and embracing a community of like-minded castoffs in clubland. She sheds her uncomfortable skin “under strobe lights” and in “sequins and sex dreams” while dancing the night away. In a cigarette-scarred voice that soars and whispers, P!nk snarls the song’s verses, then shows her range on its catchy chorus, in which she declares that God must be spinning the tunes and that the rhythm and the dance floor contain all that life and love can offer. She’s convincing, too, even before testifying, “God wants you to shake your ass!”

Love also speaks of God in her song, “Mono,” only she’s asking the almighty for one more song to prove she can still save rock ’n’ roll—at least for three-and-a-half minutes. And she does it, too. Even if “Mono” rips everything from MTV theme music to the Ramones and Iggy Pop—and even if she gets considerable help from guitarists Wayne Kramer and Joe Gore—it’s still the most charismatic rock single of the moment.

Love pushes everything people detest about her, egotistically sneering, “Did you miss me?” before announcing that this is the part “where I gotta come and save the day.” She asks if rock is dead, says that it probably is, then attacks with a blast of personality that’s exhilarating in a raw-power way that, say, The Distillers or the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have yet to achieve. The fact that Love came up with such a feral epic at this point in her career, or that P!nk nailed the cross-section between dance and rock with such night-crawling chutzpah, keeps the bar where it should be—in the gutter and in the limelight.

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