Kelly Clarkson - Strong on 'Stronger'
For Kelly Clarkson devotees, like myself, her long delayed fifth album Stronger was far and away the year's most anticipated. What's that you say, Kanye & Jay-Z teamed up on Watch The Throne? Yea, so?
The only problem with high hopes are the high expectations that come along with them. That's why I was frustratingly underwhelmed by every track upon first listen. My initial notes included adjectives like "cheesy," "forgettable" and "anesthetized." I found myself frustrated by her inability to take chances -- a character flaw I still blame on the general (mis)conception that her somber 2007 album, My December, was a mistake. I won't go into how untrue that is or that December features some of Kelly's best songs ever (Sober, Irvine, Judas), but I will say that Rihanna's equally awesome and dark Rated R proves the public doesn't like when their pop princesses get upset. A stupid sentiment since some of the best art is born out of pain.
But I digress. Back to Kelly.
So there I was, utterly underwhelmed. But I refrained from reviewing until I could get a few more spins out of the CD. And thank god I did, because a funny thing happened on the way to publishing this review: I had a complete change of heart about Stronger.
Don't get me wrong, I still hear the ridiculousness of Einstein (a mathematical mess that features the laughable lyric "dumb plus dumb equals you"), the familiar chord progression on Hello (Katy Perry's Last Friday Night requests royalties) and the unnecessary verbal restraint on You Can't Win (it's OK to sing "s***" Kelly, we don't mind). But I also uncovered the haunting melodies on Breaking Your Own Heart, the anthemic excellence of Let Me Down and the radio-ready hooks on I Forgive You and What Doesn't Kill You (Stronger), which will smartly be her next single, Kelly announced last Wednesday at a Los Angeles concert I had the privilege to attend.
And I don't think it's any coincidence this live show was sandwiched in-between my negative first listen and this decidedly positive review. Kelly Clarkson is first and foremost a singer, born out of the first season of American Idol, when that show was still about discovering pure, unfiltered talent. She is not part of this new wave of singer/performers whose success depends as much on sartorial spectacle as it does on ability. So it's no surprise she thrives in a live arena.
Her full-bodied performances elevate every lyric while the vocal gymnastics she readily injects into reworked renditions of all her songs, transforming them from good to gargantuan. If you need further proof of this, compare the version of Already Gone that appeared on her last album with how she performs it live. Wait, don't -- because there is no comparison.
Same goes for Kelly. As the youngest last vestige of a pre-Gaga pop world, Kelly may seem outdated or "quaint" compared to her contemporaries. But as long as I'm buying albums or talking about musicians, I will never dismiss a woman whose message has never been clearer, whose output has never been more engaging and whose voice has never been Stronger.
Although it should be noted that this rating might be higher if the three tracks available on a Deluxe Edition of Stronger were part of the original album since Don't Be A Girl About It, The Sun Will Rise and Alone are terrific and totally worth buying the slightly more expensive version. Or both. Support our girl!