It's a record company golden rule: Never let an artist startle fans or confuse radio programmers by pulling any fast moves with their sound, image, or genre. Especially when that act only has one hit album behind them.
So how did an upstart like Pink convince Arista to let her renounce her former style and present herself as an entirely different artist on just her second album?
We may never know. But this we do: While the 22-year-old's 2000 debut ''Can't Take Me Home'' introduced her as the white Destiny's Child, her follow-up, M!ssundaztood, makes her sound like Cyndi Lauper's long lost stepsister. It's a fetching collection of pop confections, lacking even a hint of the clichéd R&B that made earlier Pink songs like ''Most Girls'' and ''You Make Me Sick'' into hits.
To color her sonic makeover, Pink (née Alicia Moore) chose an odd collaborator: Linda Perry, leader of the one-hit-wonder band 4 Non Blondes, known for that strident smash ''What's Up.'' Pink cowrote much of the album with Perry, but their sound together informs even the songs overseen by others. Luckily, the duo's numbers prove both more melodically winning and more credibly ornery than anything by the Blondes. The single ''Get the Party Started'' has the tricky synth hook of a perfect new- wave hit from the '80s. Other cuts seem more contemporary yet still conform to the timeless demands of well-honed pop.
The more personal lyrics of ''M!ssundaztood'' give Pink's cocky character some lurid new details. In ''Don't Let Me Get Me,'' she turns self-loathing into a perverse kind of anthem. In ''Family Portrait,'' she goes all Jerry Springer on us, revealing a cartoonishly crazed childhood. But in ''My Vietnam,'' she lunges utterly over the top, comparing her personal travails to one of the last century's most ruinous wars.
Now that's adolescent self-involvement for you. And more power to her. While the result may lack adult depth, ''M!ssundaztood'' captures girlish confusion with greater accuracy and delight than Alanis Morissette's supposed bible of the form, ''Jagged Little Pill.'' The fact that Pink chose to risk all, and broke the industry's most rigid rule to create it, only makes her achievement, and her future, that much rosier.