Flip through any tabloid these days and it's only a matter of time before you'll encounter a report of some '90s teen-pop star publicly smoking, drinking, or partially disrobing. It makes you wonder: Are they reveling in their new freedom to step out as naughty twentysomethings -- or intentionally attempting to smear their clean-cut image now that '''90s teen-pop star'' is a derogatory label?
No such ambiguity surrounds Pink. Although she arrived at the same time as Christina and Britney, Pink -- brasher, more outspoken, and more unpredictable -- always stood apart, at least in terms of persona. Her peers eventually took on the trappings of trailer-park vamps, but Pink, with her porn-star looks and limitless supply of fishnet stockings and cleavage-baring shirts, resembled one from the start. On Try This, her third album, she continues to do what comes naturally. In song after song, she depicts herself as a girl up for a wild night on the town or an equally ferocious lovemaking session on a table. When she's not recounting her adventures, she's ranting at the poseurs and burnouts she's met along the way. Living up to the exclamation mark occasionally inserted into her moniker, P!nk belts loudly, raps lustily, moans orgasmically, and, unlike Britney, is altogether believable as an out-of-control party monster.
Pink's debut, 2000's ''Can't Take Me Home,'' was vanilla-cookie-cutter R&B; its follow-up, 2001's ''M!ssundaztood,'' was vastly improved but stayed within dance-pop confines. Her evolution continues with ''Try This,'' on which her leading collaborator is Rancid's Tim Armstrong. A far cry from the pop and R&B producers with whom she's worked in the past, Armstrong infuses his contributions with a Jolt Cola energy. It's a savvy move, given how many teen-pop fans have recently transferred their affections to the likes of blink-182 and Newfound Glory. But it's a productive move, too, making for a hooky, engaging throwaway that expands Pink's range while holding on fiercely to her irascible inner child.
Rather than recycle Rancid riffs, Armstrong -- whose tracks make up more than half the album -- weds Pink's guttural voice to ska horns (''Tonight's the Night''), unapologetically AOR rock (''Walk Away''), and anthemic chants (''Humble Neighborhoods''). The sexcapades ode ''Oh My God'' is both sensual and rapacious, and its juxtaposition of Pink's drowsy, morning-after delivery with a slurpy guest rap from Peaches is an album highlight. Fans of Pink's earlier records may not be thrilled -- in fact, the punk-lite first single, ''Trouble,'' is running into trouble of its own on the pop charts -- but one has to admire Pink's musical fearlessness, equal in its way to Justin Timberlake's.
It's a shame Armstrong didn't produce the whole album. Hooking up again with ''M!ssundaztood'''s hitmaker Linda Perry, Pink turns into a wailing arena rocker -- Pat Benatar for a new generation -- on the hammy but undeniably robust slow jam ''Catch Me While I'm Sleeping'' and the fast and furious ''Try Too Hard.'' Those tracks work, but we could have done without the dreadful dance-rock cheeseball ''God Is a DJ'' or the generic adult-contemporary love song with the appropriately generic title ''Love Song,'' both courtesy of other producers. Maybe Pink isn't very different from her teen-pop refugees: She's a rebel only to a point, and she's more than willing to compromise her rawness for crossover pop success. Yet while her peers struggle to grime themselves up, Pink and her exuberantly junky pop still stand head and bustier above the rest.