Review Summary: Sadly, even a spectacular failure would have been interesting.
No fat jokes, please.
It’s sink or swim for Kelly Clarkson with her third album release, the drearily-titled My December
. It’s not so much her career that’s at stake- her continued fame is virtually assured- but her decision to clash antlers with RCA head Clive Davis and her refusal to work with professional songwriters will likely determine one aspect of her future: whether she continues to blossom into an independent creative artist or retreats to the collaboration formula which has already earned her numerous awards and fifteen million-plus album sales. It’s not clear whether the very public spat was wholly orchestrated or has merely been managed from the sidelines, but Clarkson has surely done everything to paint herself as the courageous David (Davinia?) facing up against the emotionless Goliath of lore, to the point where even overkill is a distant figure.
But here’s the thing: Davis is right. Breakaway
was a very rare breed of album which many musicians covet but few actually achieve; an album that could legitimately claim to be composed entirely of hits or potential hits, in the same way Bad
was in the US or (What’s The Story?) Morning Glory
was in Europe. That’s not to say Breakaway
was as varied or as unique as either of those albums- on the contrary, its sameness was its one downfall- but each track was crafted to an extremely high standard: the melodies and songwriting were superb; the production was pristine and dynamic; and Kelly bloomed as a singer.My December
has some great vocal performances but little else. Lead single ‘Never Again’ is the album’s only identifiable “hit,” and even that has begun to fall from radio playlist with next-to-no fanfare. Second single ‘Sober’ is barely a single at all; the arrangement is of a typical rock ballad, but the hook is buried two minutes into the track, longer than most casual listeners can reasonably be expected to hold attention.
It’s true that, even in pop music, singles ain’t everything. My December
was unlikely to duplicate the success of Breakaway
with or without hit singles, but stylistically, the albums are very similar- the songs just are just way inferior this time around. My December
’s fourteen tracks (including the hidden ‘Chivas’) sound like rough sketches fleshed out with Breakaway
’s light rock arrangements; ‘Don’t Waste Your Time’ and ‘Judas’ each boast catchy hooks, but the verses are stagnant, bogged down by a rigid rhyming scheme which prevents the singer from injecting any fluidity into her performance. ‘Yeah’ is more promising, kicking off with a funky distorted guitar lick, but devolves horrifically into a high-pitched horn-inflected chorus which sounds positively painful even with a world-class singer like Kelly behind the mic. Elsewhere, a lack of direction is a constant problem: Kelly leaps confusingly into her higher register for the final words of ‘Never Again’’s opening line, and the distorted guitar line which underpins the verse is, for want of a better term, “inept.” Questions like “why is she singing it like that?” and “why is playing that line?” probably should have been asked by somebody at some point before the album landed on my desk.
On the plus side, My December
does succeed in places, almost exclusively when Kelly steps out of the rock chick mould and does what she does best: sing with minimal accompaniment. Closing pair ‘Irvine’ and ‘Chivas’ are obvious companion pieces; the former is a reggae-infused acoustic number whose intimate arrangement highlights every inflection and imperfection in Kelly’s jazz-inspired vocal. ‘Chivas’ (named for the brand of Scotch) is a home recording in a similar style, but the lyrics are bitter yet playful, belittling a former lover with the line “I’ll take a Chivas instead of your bed.”
‘Sober’ may not be tailor-made for radio, but it is beautifully arranged, taking in bouncy Sting-like synthesised strings and an excellent vocal performance, while ‘Haunted,’ the only rock track of note on the disc, is reminiscent of Amy Lee’s best performances.
Just watch My December
sell ten million copies now. I’ll be sick.
For a full stream of My December through to its June 26 release date, visit MTV's The Leak: