Kelly Clarkson
Breakaway


4.0
excellent

Review

by Dr Dave De Sylvia STAFF
February 9th, 2006 | 123 replies


Release Date: 2004 | Tracklist


After winning the first American Idol, former telemarketer and sometimes Sabrina the Teenage Witch extra Kelly Clarkson's career in music seemed assured. With two red-hot singles to her name, the Idol-winning ballad ‘A Moment Like This’ and the massive dance-pop hit ‘Miss Independent,’ her profile (and her “profile” has been as much a source of discussion as her vocal talents) had already afforded her success in the UK and Australia aswell as North America. Then it all went a little pear-shaped; Subsequent singles ‘Low’ and ‘The Trouble with Love Is’ were relative failures and rumours of her imminent demise became rife. Then there was ‘From Justin to Kelly,’ which I haven’t seen but hate nonetheless, in which she co-starred with fellow Idolator and Smokey Robinson-look-alike Justin Guarini. The film is considered by many to be one of the worst films ever, second only to ‘Anus Magillicutty’ on IMDb’s “Bottom 100 Worst Films.” Such is the context in which Breakaway was made.

Now free from her Idol contract, Kelly set her sights on a more rock-oriented direction, in the vein of Avril Lavigne. And it was a song deemed unsuitable for the aformentioned’s Under the Skin album that set her on her way: ‘Breakaway’ was initially intended as a stop-gap single while the new album was being recorded, but its huge success prompted its inclusion on the album and, later, gave the album its title. Clarkson even enlisted some of that album’s writers and producers for the project- pop’s most in-demand songwriter Kara DioGuardi, producer John Shanks, ex-Evanescence guitarist Ben Moody and the Canadian husband-and-wife duo, Raine Maida of alt. rockers Our Lady Peace and Chantal Kreviazuk. Also into the fold are Swedish pop legends (what would a pop album be without Swedes?) Dr. Luke and Max Martin, composer of ‘...Baby One More Time’ among others.

As is to be expected, the album is firmly centered on Clarkson’s booming blues-diva voice. Though comparisons will inevitably (and have been) drawn with other heavyweights of the pop-rock genre- Avril Lavigne, Ashlee Simpson, Sheryl Crowe- however Clarkson’s voice is inherently superior to all of these artists: the latter pair’s gravelly crooning bears little real resemblance to Kelly’s clean jazz/blues-informed timbre; the comparisons to Avril are far more relevant, and her influence (or rather her example) can be heard throughout the album, but the Canadian’s pleasant vocals exhibit neither the variety nor the charisma shown here.

Aside from the strong songwriting on offer, that’s what really sets this album apart from the competition: while most pop albums suffer from a certain type of redundancy brought about by a large amount of rather similar material, Breakaway is conspicuous in the absence of any real ‘filler,’ a difficult feat to accomplish across a 45-minute pop album. The difference is not that the material is so unique but that the singer is so accomplished that she can keep interesting a set of songs that another singer might make sound derivative. The album is divided pretty evenly between ballads and the rockier pop songs, but even the usually staid pop ballad here serves up much diversity: Opening track ‘Breakaway,’ while I hasten to label it a “power ballad,” contrasts a fairly typical acoustic verse with a soaring pop chorus, punctuated by Clarkson’s powerful but controlled voice; ‘Because of You,’ on the other hand, bears an interesting resemblance to Evanescence’s ‘My Immortal’ (the music was written by Ben Moody of Evanescence) but Clarkson takes the piano-driven song in a different direction with a stormy, hard blues vocal (avoiding the typical raised-key final chorus cliché along the way).

Instrumentally, the focus is very much of creating tight arrangements without encroaching on the vocal tracks- while the rocky choruses feature crashing, distorted guitar chords and drumming, aswell as intense string arrangements, the vocals are mixed highly and double-tracked to ensure they cut through effectively. This is amply demonstrated on the chorus of album-highlight ‘Addicted To You,’ where the contrasting vocal lines overpower even the band and string section, creating an irresistible combination of sounds competing with each other. The same can be said of the latest advances in the flourishing Swedish manufacturing sector: twin compositions ‘Since U Been Gone’ and ‘Behind These Hazel Eyes’ which, despite the type of ballsy choruses which would make Jimmy Eat World blush, allow the vocal melodies to represent themselves. These tight, but less than innovative, arrangements serve the primary function of ornamenting the sometimes phenomenal vocals without themselves attracting more attention than is needed.

The singer co-wrote six of the album’s eleven new cuts (‘Beautiful Disaster’ is a live version of a track from Thankful), the vast majority of her contribution coming in the form of lyrics. Her contribution appears modest, but is instrumental in creating some thematic consistency. Her lyrics deal with loss of friendships and loved ones and, while perhaps not worthy of excessive attention, nonetheless communicate the desired feeling. ‘Because Of You’ is an fiery ode to her absentee father; ‘Behind These Hazel Eyes’ and ‘Where Is Your Heart’ rail against an inconsiderate lover, while another highlight, ‘Walk Away,’ and ‘Addicted’ deal with the source of her relationship angst. Her words range from the touching: “Because of you I never stray too far from the sidewalk/Because of you I learned to play on the safe side so I don’t get hurt”; to the (over)dramatic: [i]“ just thought you were the one/Broken up deep inside/But you won’t get to see these tears I cry”; to the downright ridiculous: “You’ve got your mother and your brother/Every other undercover telling you what to say.”

While Kelly Clarkson is a long way short of ranking amongst pop’s biggest names (did you read those lyrics?) and, with only two releases to her name, time will only tell if she’ll become this decade’s Michael Jackson or whether she’ll fade away to become the female Justin Guarini (not Smokey Robinson); Breakaway is by no means the Thriller to her Off The Wall, but Kelly Clarkson has at least (with a lot of help, it must be said) created a rare type of album, a pop album which offers a full selection of potential singles, reminiscent of Jackson’s Bad or Thriller, which combines mass appeal with artistic integrity and perceived longevity (digital sales of the album’s five singles alone already exceed five million). Breakaway may be remembered in years to come as a pop classic, alongside Madonna’s early material perhaps, or it might suffer the fate of Tiffany, Lolly and the like. Somehow the former seems the more likely at this moment in time.

[The UK and European editions of Breakaway feature bonus cuts of ‘Miss Independent’ and ‘Low’ from Kelly’s debut album, Thankful]



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3.5
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If you're into modern pop music, this is essential....


Comments:Add a Comment 
Sepstrup
February 9th 2006


1563 Comments


I've only heard Behind These Hazel Eyes. I didn't like it, and its video was horrible.

Med57
Moderator
February 9th 2006


1001 Comments


She's actually got a really good voice. I don't like the music I've heard by her, and there's far better pop out there at the moment, but her voice is indeed very good. I haven't heard the full album so I can't comment, but I think I've heard a couple of songs, which seemed not that special (especially compared to Miss Independent m/ 2 Grammys yesterday was very impressive too.

mx
Moderator
February 9th 2006


733 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I've heard 'Because Of You' , it's a beautiful song

Dancin' Man
February 9th 2006


719 Comments


She actually wrote a number of the songs on here too didn't she?

DFelon204409
Emeritus
February 9th 2006


3995 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

This album is nards. I had to listen to it when my family was at Tahoe and this was the only CD in the stereo.

morrissey
Moderator
February 9th 2006


1688 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I was queuing this up for a review because we need more pop around you, but damn me if you didn't give it far more justice than I ever could have. Nice dosage of funny too (ps I have seen about 17 minutes of From Justin to Kelly and am thus more qualified to hate it).

I don't know what it is, but something about both Clarkson's (amazing) voice and her sweet aura makes me want her to succeed. It is just interesting watching someone go from some lame ass award show winner and develop into a true talent and a bonafide superstar. I think you really hit on what made this album great. It is far from a classic, far from a classic pop album even, but I'll be damned if the first four songs are not the best set to open any album in a long time.

And Because of You is a truly amazing song. I wish her material wasn't so cheesy lyrically, but man her voice is something else.

morrissey
Moderator
February 9th 2006


1688 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

blergh I can't edit because it makes the comment too long. I meant "we need more pop around here".

I also like how you link to other pop albums for comparison, good idea.

NOTINTHEFACE
February 9th 2006


1653 Comments

Album Rating: 1.0

I love the song Breakaway and Since U Been Gone, but I find the rest of this album hopelessly boring. I really can't see why Because Of You has been getting so much attention lately, it's rock-bottom uninteresting, and everything beyond track 3 of this CD follows suit. But still, compared to the pop singers you mentioned in your review, the musicianship is godlike lol. Not that it's saying much.

BTW, excellent review. Music's just not my style.

morrissey
Moderator
February 9th 2006


1688 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I think it depends on what criteria you consider to make up a great album. If you're looking at it from the talent aspect, Breakaway is tops whereas ...Oops! I Did it Again doesn't even chart. If you're looking at it from an overall perspective, it is a stand-up pop album but I would still choose In the Zone, Make it Big! or Millenium over this. Of course it might just need time to age, it is difficult to judge an album appropriately when its singles are still being played every 13 minutes on the radio.

edit: this doesn't really pertain to this album but I love "Miss Independent" and thanks to your bio I now know that Aguilera co-wrote it, I never would have guessed. Good stuff.This Message Edited On 02.09.06

Jawaharal
February 9th 2006


1832 Comments


My sister plays this alot. Me no likey.

masada
February 9th 2006


2733 Comments


The singles are great. I need to get this (purchase or pirate).

Jawaharal
February 9th 2006


1832 Comments


This is one of those albums I'd feel alot more comfortable ordering off amazon than purchasing at a store.


masada
February 9th 2006


2733 Comments


P.S. Great review.

Zaine
February 9th 2006


199 Comments


as far as Pop standards are, she is fantastic. i love her voice and her songs are Superb. Ace review as always.This Message Edited On 02.09.06

On The Edge
February 9th 2006


27 Comments


Great review

Great album, excellent voice and excellent songs.

CushMG15
February 9th 2006


1802 Comments


I'm not a fan, but I prefer to Avril anyday. She has a great voice, and is probably some of the only stuff on Clear Channel that I can stand these days.

Are you sure it's fair to group Sheryl Crowe with Avril Lavigne and Ashlee Simpson? Crowe has been around a long time and has a fair amount more credibility.

CushMG15
February 9th 2006


1802 Comments


Haha...yeah what the fuck?


Good Review tho man, seriously.

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
February 9th 2006


15737 Comments


Screw Micheal Jackson. You're the king of pop.

Digging: Ricky Eat Acid - Three Love Songs

Rudd13
February 9th 2006


952 Comments


I think her singles are excellent. Very good writing, and all that good stuff.

Her first Grammy speech last night was pretty humorous, and what a tight little number she was wearing.

I took care of that later.

Zebra
Moderator
February 9th 2006


2647 Comments


I instantly new that this was a Plath review when I saw it on the main page. Great work as usual, it was well written and shorter than most of your reviews.
I don't have this album but judging by the two singles I have heard from her this isn't my style.



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