Gay icons Pink & Babs flex their muscle in disparate ways

P!nk-AndrewMacphersonIn a world ruled by artificial pop princesses, Pink has always approached her music with real-woman candor, whether she’s slamming horny dudes at the bar or singing a true-life tale about her parents’ divorce. But this hell-raiser act, which extends through her catchy-but-safe seventh album, turns cocky into caricature.

The Truth About Love wants so hard to convince the world that Pink (who became a mommy not long ago) is still the biggest badass on the block that it spends too much time proving a point when it should be using Pink’s mighty ways as a singer and songwriter to crush the competition. (We know she can do it.) The potty mouth, the man put-downs (she tells him, cheekily, to blow her) and a duet with another often-misunderstood musician, Eminem — we get it; she’s still a punk … though Pink at her most “punk” was on the fierce commercial-dud Try This, released nearly 10 years ago.

Still, it’s clear record execs won’t let this one suffer the same fate: Second single “Try” fetches a generic credo of perseverance but has a cool grunge sound, while “Walk of Shame,” about a one-night stand, is goofy super-pop that’s a lot of fun. But Pink, who has made catchier songs about jerking off, is better than “Slut Like You.” Her deftness is demonstrated on “Beam Me Up,” where she lets down her guard for a needy moment of vulnerable release. It’s just too bad how hard The Truth About Love tries to be another Funhouse, turning Pink into a brand instead of the artist she always seemed destined to be.

There’s a predictability to Babs that’s like comfort food: Her rainy-day music tends to require a box of tissues, and she sings with the same passion, precision and power that made the Brooklyn girl a star more than 40 years ago. Simply put, there’s no one else like her in this smoke-and-mirrors music industry. Not even Adele possesses the same purity as Barbra.

Release Me, spanning decades as it reaches back into her song catalog for 11 previously unreleased tracks, is a testament to her reign as a vocal luminary who’s not just stood the test of time, but stands taller as the years go by. But even in 1971, during her “Stoney End” ear, Streisand’s capabilities were so absolute that her cover of Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today” was cut in one take, with a simple reading over Newman’s piano that preserves the melancholic sorrow of the song without overdoing it.

Better than Bette’s version from Beaches? Not when it comes to heart. “Being Good Isn’t Good Enough,” from the 1967 Broadway musical Hallelujah, Baby! about equality, goes all diva with an escalating orchestra that finally crescendos as Babs sings her butt off.

It’s also refreshing to hear Streisand, who’s gone the contemporary love-song route, take on a song as theatrically thrilling as her up-tempo version of “Home” from The Wiz. The song never made The Broadway Album as planned, but it’s here, and it’s glorious.

— Chris Azzopardi