Review Summary: Forget just for a moment that she was spawned by American Idol, and embrace one of the guiltier pleasures of this spring.
Ever since winning the first season of that all-time favorite show of musical sadists, American Idol, Kelly Clarkson has been on a commercial spree of success unmatched by anyone else to come out of that program save for Carrie Underwood. Building her reputation as a slightly rebellious pop singer with a penchant for big choruses wasn’t exactly tough, given her admittedly extraordinary vocal talents and the publicity she received from being the first Idol champ. Her fourth album isn’t exactly anything new, little surprise coming from an artist who has been carefully managed since she stepped into the public’s eye, but it does sound an awful lot like Kelly Clarkson – something I doubt will stand in her way of selling another million or so records.
Whether it be because of the excellent producers around her, who include Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic and Swedish svengali Max Martin, or the accessible charm of her personality, Clarkson knows how to put out hits. To her credit, however, it’s largely Clarkson’s voice that allows such mundane hits as “Since You Been Gone” to this album’s bid for single-of-the-year, “My Life Would Suck Without You” to elevate onto a level of pop brilliance. Versatile and authentic, Clarkson is a pop star one can relate to, and it’s this combination of star power and power pipes that make “My Life Would Suck Without You” such a bouncy offering of electropop. Her voice soars at all the right places, the lyrics are the perfect mix of venom and love, and the humongous chorus practically begs to be sung along to. Sure, the production is worth a million bucks, but it is increasingly evident as All I Ever Wanted tools along that Clarkson remains the star.
Production, of course, cannot be totally ignored, and it’s telling that I could easily see more than half the album becoming platinum singles over the course of the year. From the self-respect anthem of “I Do Not Hook Up” to the pounding arena sound of “Don’t Let Me Stop You” to the glitchy dance groove of “If I Can’t Have You,” hits predictably abound. All I Ever Wanted is a generally brighter affair than her last release, 2007’s My December, but Clarkson’s ‘tude is more than evident on tunes such as the faux-punk of “Whyyouwannabringmedown” or that ubiquitous hit single mentioned above. And when the album sags, it’s more because of an ill-advised production choice or a momentum-stunting ballad, like the all-too standard weeper “Cry.”
Clarkson’s voice is undeniably big, and so it should come as no surprise that she’s at her best being backed up by an army of ringing guitars and a hard-hitting chorus. On songs like “Already Gone” and the synth-heavy “Impossible,” however, Tedder’s so-so production turns Clarkson into merely just another pop sing behind an interesting beat. And while a song like “Whyyouwannabringmedown” is a novelty on first listen, Clarkson’s fierce snarl belies the fairly tame, self-evident message. Just try to ignore the embarrassing U2-esque “uno dos tres” countdown that seems to come out of nowhere and the artificial guitar solo.
But the hits outnumber the misses here, and when Clarkson and co. get it right, the hook will be bouncing around in your head for weeks. Katy Perry-throwaway “Long Shot,” the sugar rush that is “I Want You,” the funky groove of the title track: Clarkson is definitely not in any danger of becoming irrelevant, and each of the above is a choice cut of modern pop, buoyed by one of the best voices in the business. Forget just for a moment that she was spawned by American Idol, and embrace one of the guiltier pleasures of this spring.