After 3 albums (wow, we're up to 4 already?), the original American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson found herself becoming increasingly more irrelevant in his age of "Poker Face" and "I Kissed a Girl." Having established herself as an Aguilera without the vocal runs, Pink without the 'tude, and Avril without the stupid, Clarkson bucked the system with My December. It was moody, cloudy, and generally pissed. It was her Jagged Little Pill. But it just didn't come through as Clarkson's range (pleasant but again not a diva's prowess) went from 0 to screaming in 3.5.
Ironically, critics alternated their opinions, usually opening their commentaries with how much Clive Davis hated it. To be fair, Clarkson's bitter "Never Again" and "Sober" were not at all unlike monster hits "Behind These Hazel Eyes" or "Because of You." In fact, she has kept the same template (wisely) yet gotten songwriters to ensure we're not bored.
Alas, there was a certain sourness to the bitter that just made it unpalatable as a comprehensive album. While almost no song on Breakaway is actually a happy one (they are all about cheating lovers or loneliness--but you might miss that during the guitar bop in "Since U Been Gone") the anthems came off as whiny or simply uncomfortable. We didn't like hearing Clarkson being in pain. This is most evident in the absolutely tragic (and brilliant) album closer, "Irvine," wherein Clarkson asks God if he's even there to hear her crying on the floor. This is more than we likely expected from the self-touted "Miss Independent." And it fell upon deaf ears most of the time, largely due to the fact that most of the songs ran together all too easily and were by the end covering the same 4 issues repeatedly. Separately, pretty good, but together, my it's bleak. Even Pill had the unapologetic "Ironic" to ease us through the trauma.
Clarkson could have gone the Lady GaGa route (which could be fun), but instead kept the course, turning up the pop-rock mentality to 11 and improving upon the lyrics that made her a star. I of course repeatedly say "she" or "Clarkson did" but in reality, Clarkson is only sometimes a co-writer and if the reception to My December is any indication, she took a backseat to the decision-making process for her new album. So, from here-out, let's refer to her as Team Clarkson as this is probably the most collaborative work she's done yet.
Team Clarksons' single, "My Life Would Suck Without You" is straight from the Pink school of single hits, in fact sounding very similar to Pink's "It's All Your Fault." I'm not faulting Kelly Clarkson for that in the slightest; in fact I encourage her to use a bit more of the backbone that Pink has and if her handlers are smart, they'll let her channel the same angsty December material in this new sound for the tour.
As opposed to the tarty, insecure Katy Perry (despite her own defiant singles, Perry comes off as increasingly vulnerable on her album from track 1 where she desperately is in search of identity--something easily forgotten while humming the one track mind that is "I Kissed a Girl" or the scolding "Hot N Cold") or the brazen, lusciously bipolar Pink however, Team Clarkson is a bit self-conscious on the album All I Ever Wanted, straight down to the name of the disc. It's not precisely all she wanted; she supposedly tried what she wanted last album and it didn't work out.
Clearly Wanted is aimed at being a very pop album that takes the same kind of safe-edgy tactic as pop-rock Pink songs (while less confessional) or Katy Perry's non-whore material (as she covers 2 Perry songs, no surprise there, but she definitely took a nod to the production quality of Perry's album, too). But it's solid. Lyrically, it's not stupid and musically it is strong and defiant--and those are important qualities in mainstream music, as it maintains decent balance between her Breakaway and December albums showing growth as an artist but maintaining that she's still very young and shouldn't be Judy Collins now or possibly ever, but at least she's not Miley.
Or is she, because as Miley Cyrus grows up, her music is getting more ambitious as well. Listening the schizo "7 Things" or the 80's retro "Fly on the Wall," Cyrus is quickly becoming her own Clarkson-without-the-drama and Team Clarkson seems to be taking note of that, creating similar accessible pop songs, such as "I Do Not Hook Up"--one of the Perry songs, and boy do we ever buy it more from Kelly Clarkson than Katy Perry. Perry's a sweet girl, but I don't doubt for a second that she hooks up plenty. In what I expected to be a purity-ring anthem, it turns out it's just a me-only (not a y'all-do-this) track without a morality lesson. She is looking for love right now, not a one night stand--she's not telling us we shouldn't have one night stands ourselves.
"Cry" is the first ballad (3 tracks in) and musically sounds like most other middle-of-the-road break-up tracks that could be from any number of generic female musicians. Irony Check: Kelly co-wrote this one.
"Don't Let Me Stop You" and the title track (which is so Pink right down to the vocal pattern and delivery, Alecia Moore should consider suing) are bit more personality-driven and you start to wonder if maybe it's been Kelly all along that's "the problem." Maybe she's just not that exciting a person. Fortunately her co-writes on "Already Gone," "If I Can't Have You," and "Ready" imply that she can contribute to her own voice and sound both convincing and catchy. "Ready" especially is a lot of fun. The Duffyesque "I Want You" grows on you.
There's some filler (the meandering "Long Shot," "Impossible," "Save You," are acceptable but make up the last third of the more dull material) and it ends of a particularly cruel note: Kelly singing plaintively to an unspecified person about how she is there for them even if they feel like no one is listening. Considering the wide-spread press on how no one was listening to Kelly and this her damage control record, it just comes off as a little disingenuous.
All in all, it's a solid record and while December is roughly equal, this one seems at least hopeful for the future. One still has to wonder if it's truly her head held high or Team Clarkson just crossing their fingers.
Download This: "My Life Would Suck Without You," "I Do Not Hook Up," "Already Gone"