Album: Kelly Clarkson – “Stronger” (2011)

Kelly Kelly Kelly. I’ve been a casual fan for a long while, particularly through her immensely popular “Breakaway” era which turned out a formidable batch of pop songs and was richly rewarded by the record buyers. It’s over 10 years since she first came to the public’s attention on American Idol, and since then she’s had a very public falling-out with her label over the rockier “My December” album. Since then she’s had a few pop hits from the last album but she seems to be turning her luck around with this latest release. I’ve only ever really listened to “Breakaway” so I thought this might be worth a shot…

08 Mr Know-it-all – Well the surprisingly big comeback hit in the UK came late last year, a mid-tempo MoR rock-pop track. Hey, if The Script can do it, why can’t Kelly? What crappy lyrics though, “Mr Know it all, think you know it all, but you don’t know a thing at all, ain’t that something y’all” … I mean really? It’s a pretty flimsy track ostensibly about a guy but from the video I guess it’s about the evil media. Ho hum. I think I’ve heard it all anyway … But the song is actually pretty catchy and really listenable, dammit. God these lyrics really are awful. But I really like this. DAMN!

10 Stronger – Now THIS was the big hit she needed, after Mr Know-it-all got her back on the radar. Much like “My life would suck without you” embraced her poppier roots, this does the same, albeit with some slightly more straight-faced delivery. That’s a killer chorus isn’t it? She goes in all synths blazing, maximum vocals (perhaps) and it’s catchy as hell. WHAT on Earth is going on in the video, with that DJ Casper-esque dance routine? It looks like she’s doing an exercise video or something, madness!

09 Dark Side – Who says Pink has cornered the market in pissed-off and strong female empowerment – oh but I’m sensitive really – anthems? Everybody has a dark side she sings (too easy if you are going to take a pot-shot at her weight), with a lullaby-feel to the verses. Again she’s got a chorus with a real punch. Could she manage three hits from one album? It’s been a long while since she’s managed that. That “Don’t run away” middle-eight is really gorgeous and she navigates the tricky melody without even breaking a sweat. She really does have a great voice, and raises even the most generic hit to something special (mostly).

06 Honestly – OK not EVERY song, but I did say “even the most generic hit”. I can’t really see this as a hit for anyone. Definitely album-track territory now. Some ethereal production here, swirly synths and some real echoey vocals. She doesn’t need to be this loud all the time does she, really? It’s good, but the strained misery melody is a bit of a buzzkill.

06 You love me – Have the hits dried up already? There are 17 tracks on this album(!) … well in fairness there’s nothing bad here so far. She needs to dial it down sometimes, I know she’s a more than capable vocalist, but she’s not that distinctive when she’s just doing the verses. Actually that’s a bit shitty of me, don’t want her to do her diva vox all the time, but then criticise when she doesn’t. Maybe if she just sounded happy, she’s either hurt or angry in everything so far. The chorus is memorable but rather one-note, that’s all.

07 Einstein – Oh she’s on the warpath again, a man done did her wrong, and she’s dealing with it the only way she knows how, through adult-contemporary pop-rock. Kick that d-bag to the kerb, Kel. It must be exhausting to be angry all the time, especially when you are uber-vocalising about it each time. i have to admit that everything so far has had a decent melody, so what’s missing? It’s a turn up from the last two anyway. Her attempts at maths are NONSENSE though. Even the simple ones like “Dumb + dumb = you” just beggars belief. Sigh…

07 Standing in front of you – Mid-album drag now, and a mid-tempo number … is she really not going to do her megavox smackdown? This is actually pretty nice, isn’t it? Very Disney-esque, that chorus is quite sweet really. Again I miss her 8000dB vocals when they are gone, but she’s got some nice subtlety to her voice when she really tries. Not exactly world-changing but a nice change.

09 I forgive you – Here’s the thing, we started off friends … hang on, that bassline is familiar. Anyway, it’s full-on pop-rock time, Pink with synths is a potent mix. Nice modern electronic flourishes here and there, and a really hot chorus. I thought the “You love me” chorus was one-note, and in places this is too, but it’s just put together so much better, think it’s the change of chords making the difference. I can complain of being bored but this sort of pop song is exactly what Kelly is best at.

06 Hello – Sorry, back to generic mid-tempo rocker now. It’s listenable enough but it’s just not really ear-catching. Verses are alright, bridge is nice. Chorus is OK. There’s some magic missing from this one, not doing it for me at all.

07 The War is Over – I heard some people raving about this, but aside from another Pink-sounding feel to it (I know there are other artists), this isn’t quite the world-beater I was led to believe, certainly not better than the singles. This actually has more than a whiff of Beyonce’s “Halo” in the chorus, am I crazy? I was nearly convinced that noted recycler Ryan Tedder might be behind this, but it seems not. Don’t get me wrong, it’s one of the better tracks but it’s not going to get her any closer to new (or old dormant) audiences than the previous singles would have.

07 Let me down – A bit more of a grungey feel, with some gloopy synths buzzing around in the background. Again she’s still pissed off at someone, it must be exhausting being Kelly. Something about this doesn’t quite ring true, her vocals are strong as ever but the verses just sound a bit odd for some reason. The chorus is pretty hot though. It’s all good, but again it’s just outshined by several better tracks in the same vein.

09 You can’t win – Is this another dig against the media? Please just get a hold of yourself, Kel, I’m sure they aren’t all out to get you. Still, this is one of the more thrilling choruses of this album. That “walking disaster” bit is particularly great. It’s obvious what she’s saying with the song, and the delivery of the verses is pretty compelling despite the re-heated idea. Kelly sure seems to spend a lot of time being frustrated, I just wonder what a happy song would be like…

06 Breaking your own heart – I don’t feel like we’ve had a full-on (or full-off) ballad, but here it is, ready or not. This seems oddly familiar too, Avril Lavigne’s “How does it feel” springs to mind at the very least. Quite country really, which is something I’m surprised she hasn’t done before. Maybe she just don’t want to, and Christ knows I wouldn’t want to be the one making her do something she doesn’t want to do… Sadly, listening to this limping ballad is something I don’t want to do particularly. It’s OK but that’s it. Why can’t people ever do amazing closing tracks?


07 Don’t you wanna stay (with Jason Aldean) – No I don’t know who that is, but this is a proper country track that was evidently a hit Stateside. I’ve never been much of a fan of country and this won’t convert me, but as a duet it’s really quite lovely. Kelly has to rein it in a little to stop her blasting Jason off the stage, and their voices complement each other well. Pretty standard but perfectly listenable.

09 Alone – Wooo! Naff 80s time! What the hell? This sounds like Roxette or something. That synthy riff is great, love it! Can see why this didn’t quite fit on the standard running order, but wouldn’t it make a decent single? Chorus is solid as a rock, it’s not exactly a million miles away from the rest of the tracks, and there is certainly room to lose a few of them. Never mind, love this!

07 Don’t be a girl about it – I think the female empowerment is going a little off-message here, don’t be a girl about it! Girls are weak idiots! If there was any doubt that Kelly wears the trousers in any relationship is out of the window now. Maybe she just shouts the guys out of their trousers. Considering how heartbroken Kelly has been for several songs in the album, it’s a little odd to seemingly hear her tell her partner to quit the emotional stuff. It’s a decent pop-rock song, nothing special really. I’m happy with this to stay as a bonus track.

08 The sun will rise – That little violin intro sounds familiar… what is that? Well the deluxe edition is finishing, so time for another sloppy ballad just to make sure. It’s nicer than “Breaking your own heart”, but the chorus is rather dull. That middle-eight perks things up a bit, staggering the tempo. The bridge to the final chorus is a nice crescendo to a full-on voxtacular finale. It’ll be alright, she sings, and after a duff start, it is.

Whew! 17 tracks of anything is always a stretch when you’re doing a track-by-track, but Kelly isn’t exactly easy listening. Well she sort of is, the worst crime any track on “Stronger” is guilty of is being boring, but most of the time there’s some hook to keep things going. Kelly’s vocals are a bit exhausting but you can’t deny her vocals really are great, and she effortlessly manoeuvres through the songs. Maybe I’d like to hear some more difficult melodies though, I know she’s up to it. But she doesn’t seem to have time, she’s either being dumped or dumping. Seriously, can’t she just be happy one day?

Keepers for the iPod: Mr Know-it-all, Stronger, Dark Side, I forgive you, You can’t win, Alone


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