Review Summary: Kelly was right to fight with Clive Davis. With My December, Kelly evolves as an artist instead of giving us Breakaway 2.
I feel that Kelly Clarkson has gotten better with every CD. Thankful showed promise with her powerful vocals, but really, it sounded much like her American Idol stuff - like "A Moment Like This." There were a couple of departures, like the Avril-esque "Low," but "Low" had a riff that was like a weaker copy of Avril's "Losing Grip." Breakaway was an album of strong pop/rock songs, ranging from the R&B-ish "Walk Away" to the folkish ballad "Where Is Your Heart" to the power pop sensation "Since U Been Gone."
It would be hard to top Breakaway, but with My December, Kelly Clarkson has done it. It starts out with the angry rocker "Never Again." That song, the industrial-dance song "One Minute," and the jamming-out "Hole" are harder but different than anything she's done. "Don't Waste Your Time" is a pop song that sounds the most like Breakaway, and is just as good as much on that CD. "Maybe" is a mid-tempo song that sounds a bit like one of Fleetwood Mac's more off-the-wall songs. "Can I Have A Kiss" is an rocker that builds to a fine crescendo. "Sober" is a spare ballad that lets her show off her voice. "Be Still" and "Irvine" are also haunting ballads. In fact, haunting is a word that can be used to describe the whole CD. Haunting due to the emotion Kelly puts into every word, and due to the melodies that seem to go into the ear and right to the soul. Think how "Addicted" from Breakaway had a drawn out melody that made sure that every word was made for maximum emotional appeal. That's the kind of feeling I get on My December. The album holds together well as a whole like Breakaway does, but My December has more variety. More strings are found, including violin, and there is more diverse guitar playing. Breakaway had a departure with the wall of guitar found on "Hear Me." But on My December, guitars slam ("Hole" and "Judas,") get helped by computer generation ("One Minute,") jangle ("Don't Waste My Time,") and are head-bobbing ("How I Feel.")
Lyrically, there are often very poetic, personal lyrics on My December. These lyrics fit the mood of the CD perfectly. Kelly has developed as a writer, exploring darker themes but not getting mired in sorrow. On Hole, she writes:
Eating at the core of me
Trusting all the lies I breathe"
And on "Sober," she writes:
"Three months and I’m still sober
Picked all my weeds but kept the flowers
But I know it’s never really over"
Also, these lyrics really lay her thoughts out without the cliches that many a song about love have used. Not that there aren't familiar themes, but Kelly has a way of making those familiar themes sound lived through and fresh. You can admire the lyrics even if you've never been in the same situation, but often people will relate to them. One song that many could relate to is "Don't Waste Your Time," which explores the old theme of a lover trying in vain to keep a relationship going. Sample lyrics from "Don't Waste Your Time" -
"Don’t waste your time trying to fix
What I want to erase
What I need to forget
Don’t waste your time on me my friend
Friend, what does that even mean
I don’t want your hand
You’ll only pull me down
So save your breath
Don’t waste your song
On me, on me
Don’t waste your time"
The only weak spot on the CD is "Yeah." It's a funky song that completely lacks direction. It seems to be added as the obligatory funk track. The album also could have used a song to lighten the mood up more. But even though there might not be anything as immediate musically on My December as "Since U Been Gone," based on this very strong CD, I think that many fans will follow her on her musical journey. I'm already anxious to see what Kelly comes up with next.