Review Summary: If you're into modern pop music, this is essential.
Ah, the old days of American Idol... don't we all miss the days of Simon Cowell's creative insults and Paula's push-over attitude? Things are quite askew on the show nowadays with people like Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban taking the judging panels and the fact that the show's gotten... well... boring. Either way, season 1 winner Kelly Clarkson has still retained her status as a household name in the pop world; alongside this fact, her albums have gotten more praise than the average Idol star's body of work. After her mediocre debut album Thankful, Clarkson decided to leave the American Idol days behind and release a heavier, louder album in the form of Breakaway.
Whereas Thankful took on a more Mariah Carey-type approach, Breakaway plays out more like an Avril Lavigne record, most notably her debut Let Go. Much like that album, Breakaway sees Clarkson combine her pop sound with hard rock and pop punk while remaining a consistently high-quality release throughout. By now, most people know the singles: "Since U Been Gone" is an album highlight, being a delightful rush of punk energy after the acoustic flavor of album opener "Breakaway." Then there's "Walk Away," which combines a standard pop-rock feel with some R&B-dabbled vocal work from Clarkson. The chorus, while not really bombastic like the one on "Since U Been Gone," is just as much of an ear hook. "Because of You" uses the formula of "My Immortal" by Evanescence and adds more instrumentation to the initially bare-bones approach of the piano work. But then there are non-single highlights such as "Gone," which takes full advantage of a slightly off-kilter drum beat and a syncopated vocal performance in the verses. The clean guitar work here is a nice contrast to the power-pop distortion in the chorus as well. Finally, there's also "Where Is Your Heart," which goes further with the piano-centric idea of "Because of You" and adds a nice string backdrop to provide an orchestral feel to the arrangement. The mid-tempo drum work isn't anything special here, but it does its job as the main instruments are providing the goods at the forefront of the song.
While all of this is great, there's a little something extra here... something that other Idol stars usually don't have... oh yeah! It sounds fucking genuine! Clarkson especially sounds so natural and at home with what she's doing on the record that it's truly something to behold. Her voice has such an inherent kindness to it as she sings her lyrics that it's almost impossible not to get wrapped up in it. Even the backing musicianship doesn't sound artificial in any way... when firing up the album with some headphones, it sounds as if you're really in the recording studio with these people. All of this makes the album sound very heartfelt and generally refreshing, and there are few pop albums today that can make that same claim.
Unfortunately, there is a downside to all of this... the lyrics are pretty damn lackluster on this record. While they aren't the worst in pop music history, they certainly bring down an otherwise amazing album; however, one thing that pulls this flaw through is just how Kelly sings these lyrics. As she belts out on "Since U Been Gone," "since you been gone, I can breathe for the first time," she sounds exceptionally convincing despite lyrical shortcomings. Perhaps that's what makes this record so great; the stuff that's good is REALLY, REALLY good... definitely good enough to overcome any noticeable flaws in the songwriting or lyrics. Overall, it seems like the genuine nature and strong compositions are what make this album as fantastic as it is... and you know what? That's convincing enough for me.