Review Summary: Ms. Clarkson breaks away into maturity mode only to find out that it isn’t all she ever wanted.
It seems like Kelly Clarkson has followed a bad-good-bad pattern throughout her career: Thankful
(good), My December
(bad), All I Ever Wanted
(good)…and now, Stronger
. It doesn’t take a coding analyst to figure out what the next output in the sequence would be, but just to humor ourselves let’s take a closer look at why
this is the case. Her first record was an overzealous attempt to prove herself as a legitimate pop superstar after winning the first season of American Idol; and predictably, the results were underwhelming. Breakaway
was the career-defining album that she had been searching for, and it spawned nearly as many radio hits as there were songs on the record. When the fanfare finally died down, she once again sought to exercise her passion for a more serious, mature endeavor. My December
ended up being relatively forgettable in the grand scheme of things, so she returned to her bread and butter with All I Ever Wanted
, which is easily the second best record in her discography. Three years later, we see her walking into the same trap that she has fallen into after every major success of an album. Oh, Kelly. If only you would have learned from your mistakes.
is an attempt to combine her carefree, catchy side with her darker, more mature side. The results are equally as mixed, featuring tracks that would have felt at home on her last release as well as ones that would have gotten lost in the mediocrity of My December
. It goes without saying that her voice is still spectacular, and that facet alone carries this album to the level of success that it does achieve. However, her vocal skills end up suffering from forgettable songwriting coupled with a lack of direction. Just listen to ‘Einstein’, a song that tries to sound soulful and clever but ends up spewing out lyrics like this: “Simple math, our love divided by the square root of pride / Multiply your lies plus time I'm going out of my mind.” Now I like math as much as the next guy, but she just sounds awkward saying those words. And that’s before she gets to the all-out idiocy of the chorus, “dumb plus dumb equals you.” It’s no wonder it’s hard to take her seriously when she turns things around on the very next track with the poetic ballad ‘Standing in Front of You.’ Quite simply, Kelly Clarkson fails to locate any trace of consistency on Stronger
, and it sacrifices whatever chance this had of being her album that “makes a statement.”
If it hasn’t already become abundantly clear, Clarkson is at her best when she is surrounded by rock-oriented instrumentation that allows her angelic voice to cut through the mix and dictate the tempo. Luckily, we get quite a few examples of that here, such as the delightfully upbeat ‘I Forgive You’ and the Sting-inspired rhythm of ‘You Love Me.’ However, Stronger
is, perhaps more than any of her other records, a pop
album. Even the surefire hit ‘Mr. Know It All’ features little besides Kelly’s vocals and a heavy beat, all of which ends up sounding a lot like something Natasha Bedingfield would write. Unfortunately, not all of the songs that she performs in that vein hit the mark. A good portion of the album goes in one ear and passes out the other, bouncing between slow and mid-tempo works that fail to make much of an impression. ‘Honestly’, ‘Hello’, ‘The War is Over’, and ‘Breaking Your Own Heart’ all suffer that fate, with the latter sounding like a pathetic attempt to reap a few benefits from the ever-growing country-pop scene. Her voice isn’t all that well suited for such a departure in style, and the track’s placement at the end of the album causes it to end with a resounding thud.
So while Stronger
has its redeeming moments, they mostly come when Clarkson does what she is renowned for doing and has already done better. It is a little too heavy on the balladry and serious tones, which are the same things that doomed her other two slightly lesser received albums. Stronger
sacrifices part of the all-for-fun, guilty-pleasure appeal present on songs like ‘My Life Would Suck Without You’ in favor of creating something with a deeper purpose. The only question is, what do you listen to Kelly Clarkson for: the integrity of the songs, or the hooks? Because the bottom line here is that these songs simply don’t stick out like they should. Alas, the bad-good-bad pattern lives on.