Tags: Christina Aguilera, Keeps Gettin’ Better: A Decade Of Hits, Lil Kim, Mya, Pink, Redman, Review, Ricky Martin, Xtina
- Genie In A Bottle
- What A Girl Wants
- I Turn To You
- Come On Over Baby (All I Want Is You)
- Nobody Wants To Be Lonely (with Ricky Martin)
- Lady Marmalade (with Lil’ Kim, Mýa and P!nk)
- Dirrty (feat. Redman)
- Ain’t No Other Man
- Genie 2.0
- Keeps Gettin’ Better
- You Are What You Are (Beautiful)
Keeps Gettin’ Better: A Decade Of Hits is Christina’s first greatest hits compilation and it contains all of the major songs she has released in her first 10 years in the music business. Not only does the record contain old material but it was a platform to showcase the new direction she was heading for her fourth studio album. The record provides a great look into her past and contains two great collaborations that were never included on her albums. In addition, she has reinvented two of her classic hits and thrown in two completely new songs. Christina’s first decade of music contains a marvelous array of songs that range from delicious dance tracks to heavenly ballads. She’s gone from the bubblegum pop of her debut to the fearless and bold Stripped to the elegant and classy Back To Basics. She constantly evolves with each era and continues to innovate. While many popstars stick to the same formula, Christina does not play it safe. She goes outside of the trends, takes risks, experiments with so many different genres and demonstrates new sides of her voice. She’s one of my favourite singers and this compilation shows exactly why.
Nobody Wants To Be Lonely (with Ricky Martin) is a Latin inspired mid-tempo that starts with some lovely ad-libbing from the duo. The Latin melody is sublime and has a very infectious groove. Ricky gets the first verse and his vocals are smooth and sultry, rising with passion as it nears the hook, “there you are, in a darkened room/and you’re all alone, looking out the window.” Christina’s verse has a lot more passion as she puts more strength into her voice, “can you hear my voice/do you hear my song/it’s a serenade, so your heart can find me, ohh.” In the chorus, they give an emotional performance and their voices melt together beautifully. “Nobody wants to be lonely/nobody wants to cry/my body’s longing to hold you/so bad it hurts inside,” they sing to the melodic arrangement with glorious ad-libs and belts that make it even more wonderful. A tempo change occurs in the bridge, slowing down for the two to let their vocals shine. The final chorus is marvelous because Christina throws out some impressive belts and hits a glorious high note. Lady Marmalade (with Lil’ Kim, Mýa and P!nk) is one of the most amazing and biggest collaborations ever because it brings women from different musical styles together for a spectacular cover. “Where’s all mah soul sistas/lemme hear ya’ll flow sistas,” Lil’ Kim raps to a snapping beat for the introduction as Mýa comes in for the first verse. Although her part is my least favourite, she still gives a great performance but she’s overshadowed by the other stars. P!nk takes over the second verse with her strong vocals while Lil’ Kim spits out a slick rap in the middle of the track. Despite how great everyone sounds, Christina steals the spotlight completely and her performance is the most memorable. The entire song builds up for her moment and when she comes in, she makes a grand entrance. Belting her way into the song, she gives a marvelous performance, “touch of her skin feeling silky smooth/color of cafe au lait alright/made the savage beast inside roar until he cried.” I really like how the choruses gradually progress to include all four singers. It starts off with just one but with each passing chorus, as each starlet gets her turn, they become incorporated into the chorus. The final chorus has all of them belting, ad-libbing and giving their all. It’s sexy, erotic and irresistibly infectious. Missy Elliot gives a shout-out to each singer at the end and they all get their own vocalizing moment before they all scream out “creole lady marmalade.”
The most exciting thing about this compilation are the electronic songs that are included at the end and the first of the four is Genie 2.0. I was dying for a studio version when she performed it at the MTV Video Music Awards. This rework of her classic hit starts with a combination of amazing synths. The intro builds up with a psychedelic riff and a bunch of computerized beeps and glitches in the background. When it explodes, an intoxicating drum and synth beat takes over. In addition to the new arrangement, she offers new vocals which result in the song having a much sexier feel. While the original has an innocent but flirty and provocative sound, the remake is darker, more erotic and mysterious. The instrumentation just oozes sex and her vocals are silky and seductive. I love how the instrumental continuously changes to include a bunch of different electronic beats. The second half of the verses contain a much grittier synth beat. The hook increases the tempo slightly but it still keeps its addicting slow groove. The highlight is the breakdown during the bridge where she sexily whispers “come on, come on, come on and let me out.” She also repeats this during the outro and it’s even more infectious due to the hectic synths that join her. This remake is flawless and I enjoy it much more than the original. Keeps Gettin’ Better is the track that was used to promote the compilation and it’s a playful up-tempo. Similarly, it begins with a bunch of overlapping synth riffs that lead into her vixen-like vocals, “so baby yes I know what I am/and no I don’t give a damn/and you’ll be loving it.” The hard synths give it an edgy feel and the second the chorus hits, the synths, as well as her vocals, get a boost and become electrified with energy. “Some days I’m a super bitch/up to my old tricks/but it won’t last forever/next day I’m your super girl/out to save the world/and it keeps getting better,” she sings ecstatically to a riveting and dance-y electronic melody where she takes on a superheroine persona. She teases in the bridge to a snapping beat with a bit of vocoder which is a very rare thing for Christina. The climatic final chorus is a blast of synths, intense vocals and ad-libs. Finishing the song off is my favourite vocal moment where she sings “hold on” and I just can’t get over how addicting her voice sounds.
Dynamite is my favourite of the new songs and with its drum and synth beat, it’s a slice of futuristic heaven. Featuring an array of screeching, buzzing and static-like synths, the song is bursting with electronic goodness. The use of vocoder gives her voice a really nice effect that goes well with the melody. I love the chorus because of how vibrant and upbeat it sounds, “dynamite, electrify me all night/dynamite, just give it to me, I won’t fight.” She’s sassy, playful and the hook is just a whole lot of fun. She plays around with her voice a lot on this track and it’s amazing to see vocals like this on an electropop song. The bridge foreshadows her next project and its one of my favourite middle eights ever, “I’m feelin’ all around me that a change is ’bout to happen/the energy igniting has become my inspiration/if you take a deeper look you’ll find the information/I’m only just a figment of controlled imagination.” The vocoder on her voice is perfect and everything about it just screams futuristic pop. It’s a really cool moment. Her background vocals in the final chorus are simply stunning and the outro is beyond amazing. Her vocalizing is so catchy and fun, especially when it’s combined with her singing “dancin’ til’ the morning on a velvet sky” because she ad-libs in a higher register. She finishes with some impressive vocal harmonies that are out of this world. This is sexy and fun, all rolled into one crazy banger. The final track is another remake and this time it’s her biggest hit that gets a makeover. You Are What You Are (Beautiful) is a Goldfrapp-esque electronic ballad and it ends up being one of the most unique remakes ever. The original was an emotional anthem that resonated with many and the new version keeps all of that beauty but presents it in a truly amazing way. Gone is the human touch and in its place is a robotic and artificial one that is very dark. The remake is much more depressing and despite being electronic, it’s stripped compared to the other new songs. Her lifeless vocals are led through a buzzing synth line with the occasional kaleidoscope of electronic beats sneaking their way in. The song never strays away from its mellow tempo and the chorus keeps the droning feel of the verses. With just a simple synth beat, the bridge contains her most vocoded vocals yet. As it goes on, the humanistic qualities of her voice start to flourish and in the background, her muffled belting can be heard. It all comes together in a touching way and it’s a lovely conclusion to the record.
Conclusion: Keeps Gettin’ Better: A Decade Of Hits is a phenomenal collection. It goes through her discography chronologically and having the songs side by side really shows how she reinvents herself with every album. The new tracks were the main reason I decided to check out this album and they do not disappoint. They were such a surprise the first time I heard them because I had no idea that she was heading into an electronic direction and it was such a different style for her. They definitely made me excited for her next project and I started to become a much bigger fan. Her take on electropop is a breath of fresh air. Everything sounds so futuristic and eccentric compared to what other popstars were doing at the time. The songs have their own unique charm and I couldn’t wait to see how far she would take that sound in her fourth album. There aren’t many pop artists out there that take such enormous leaps with their music and it makes Christina stand out amongst her peers. She always brings something new to the table and that’s what I love about her. New and old fans will find a lot to love about this compilation.
Recommended Tracks: Dynamite, Genie 2.0, You Are What You Are (Beautiful) and Keeps Gettin’ Better
Note: The reviews for the rest of the songs from this compilation can be found in my reviews for Christina Aguilera – Christina Aguilera, Christina Aguilera – Stripped and Christina Aguilera – Back To Basics
Tags: 21, Adele, Review
- Rolling In The Deep
- Rumour Has It
- Turning Tables
- Don’t You Remember
- Set Fire To The Rain
- He Won’t Go
- Take It All
- I’ll Be Waiting
- One And Only
- Someone Like You
- If It Hadn’t Been For Love
- Hiding My Heart
In a business where sex sells and women are expected to be a certain size, Adele threw all those expectations out the window and single-handedly dominated 2011 with her sophomore record, 21. She made her mark with her first album, 19, which showcased her powerful voice to the world. While that album was successful, it pales in comparison to what she achieved with this album. Album sales have certainly declined in the new digital age but Adele revitalized the industry. I first heard of Adele through word of mouth on message boards but I had no desire to check her album out. Eventually, I came across her video for Rolling In The Deep and that was all it took to send me off to find her album. She doesn’t stray from the themes that she explored in her debut and 21 is completely focused on the aftermath of one of her relationships. However, what is different about this album is its maturity and sound. Everything is bolder, louder and so much more powerful. It is a reflection of who she has become as a person and her growth is very evident. The songs reveal her experience with the break-up, ranging from feelings of anger, regret, sadness and heartbreak. On 19 she had just begun carving her sound but on this album she perfects it.
Like I said in the introduction, Rolling In The Deep was all it took to get me hooked on her and it’s one hell of an opener. Blending blues and gospel, she creates a powerful revenge track laced with dark overtones. With the simple strumming of a guitar, the stage is set for Adele’s massive voice. “There’s a fire starting in my heart” she bellows to the simplistic but strong strumming, only to be joined by an explosive set of drums after the first stanza. While I loved her voice on her debut, it sounds richer and stronger now. The fury that spills from the melody and her vocals is captivating and deadly. It demands attention and you can’t help but cower to it. Once in the pre-chorus, you can feel the song building up and getting ready to erupt and it does in the chorus. “We could have had it all/rolling in the deep/you had my heart inside of your hand/and you played it/to the beat” she belts, accompanied by gospel backing vocals. It’s the highlight of the track and it’s a massive ear-worm. Her deep, emotional and vindictive tones are a breath of fresh air. Her voice is one of a kind and she shows it off perfectly. She channels gospel in the bridge as she sings to a clapping beat with wailing background vocals. The song constantly amazes and continues to fill up with power as it goes on. It’s really not surprising that this song blew up everywhere. It avoids all the clichés that riddle music today and it’s something that hasn’t been done in a very long time. It’s an amazing track and it still hasn’t lost its charm even if it’s been overplayed to death. Rumour Has It is a poppier tune that is percussion-driven. It still has that blues-y feel but its in-your-face as she addresses the gossip surrounding her love life. This track has a very contagious groove to it, thanks to the constant display of drums and her “oohs” which remain in the background for the majority of the song. Her powerhouse of a voice takes on a sassy tone as she sings to the old school beat. There isn’t much of a chorus because it’s just the title repeated a few times but it’s so addicting and funky. It’s hard not to become a victim of its beat. Things calm down in the bridge until the rapid piano comes in and evokes an unsettling atmosphere, leading back into the wicked drum melody.
Adele gets more intimate with the next track, Turning Tables, which finds her cooing to the delicate strokes of a sad piano. The tear-inducing melody is captivating and is complimented by her sorrowful vocals. “Close enough to start a war/all that I have is on the floor,” she sings and with lyrics like these it’s hard not to fall for this tear-jerker. This was a favourite of mine the first time I heard it. Its beauty resonates loud when the pre-chorus hits and the piano’s tone shifts as her voice heightens. The outcome is marvelous and it’s certainly a key part of the song, despite how short it is. For a brief second, the song becomes barren and the piano comes back stronger for the chorus, “so, I won’t let you close enough to hurt me/no, I won’t rescue you to just desert me/I can’t give you the heart you think you gave me/it’s time to say goodbye to turning tables.” It’s stunning and her voice tears through the instrumentation with pain. The chorus is better the second time around because of the strings and the spiraling nature of the bridge, emotionally and sonically, is amazing. Don’t You Remember leads her away from anger and brings her to a state of reflection with its calm and country acoustic set. The guitar embodies the feel of the countryside and it has a very welcoming and warm air to it. The minimal arrangement of the verses puts all the focus on her voice. She impresses with soothing and deep tones that convey a tremendous amount of pain, “when was the last time you thought of me?/or have you completely erased me from your memory?” I love the way her voice stretches and rises. It not only evokes a stronger sense of sadness but demonstrates what a great vocalist she is. Eventually, it starts to build up as it heads into the pre-chorus and finally climaxes in the chorus as the drums join the guitar riff which becomes a lot livelier. The hook is phenomenal as she lets her voice soar through the melody and it instantly pulls you into its depressing atmosphere. She recalls the good times in her relationship but it’s overshadowed by the heartbreak that she has endured. It comes together in a lovely but extremely sad way, “but don’t you remember?/don’t you remember?/the reason you loved me before/baby, please remember me once more.”
Set Fire To The Rain is the beast of the album. This is her best song and it’s a killer power ballad. Struggling with the idea of letting go, she delves into a dark concoction of piano, percussion and strings. The gorgeous piano and percussion melody start things off and her vocals are unbelievable, “I let it fall, my heart/and as it fell you rose to claim it.” It’s, without a doubt, her best vocal performance. She didn’t sing like this on her debut so it’s stunning to hear her put so much energy into her voice. The lyrics are as beautiful as the accompanying melody and as it enters the pre-chorus the strings come to life, building up for the chorus which is the most amazing hook on the entire album. “But I set fire to the rain/watched it pour as I touched your face/well, it burned while I cried/’cause I heard it screaming out your name, your name,” she belts with her monstrous voice to a melody that is both elegant and terrifying. The power she evokes is incredible and it’s so easy to fall head over heels for this song. The second chorus contains an extra stanza and it’s even better. I love the way her voice sounds when she cries “and I threw us into the flames.” Adele finishes it off with some crazy belting, something that she doesn’t do very often, and the final note she hits leaves me speechless every time. This is a complete gem, one of the standout songs from the previous year and cements her as one of the best singers to grace the music industry in the last few years. The album cools down with He Won’t Go, a chilled mid-tempo with a cool piano and drum beat that touches slightly on R&B territory. The relaxed tone of the verses is nice and her delivery is very laid-back. The shift in the chorus makes the song exciting thanks to the dramatic drums. Her voice takes on a soulful twang that suits the light melody. The bridge features a lovely harp and it’s the best part of the song. The final chorus gets an extra kick because of the strings which makes it catchier. It’s a good song but it’s not that memorable.
Take It All borrows from gospel and she wastes no time in getting started. “Didn’t I give it all/tried my best/gave you everything I had/everything and no less?” she sings as she moves between deep and high tones to an arrangement solely driven by a piano. She plays with her vocal range a lot on this ballad and that’s what makes it so enjoyable. The simple composition lets her raw vocals shine and they’re so beautiful. The pitchy, high notes that she occasionally hits are divine, especially in the bridge where she lets her voice go out of control. She’s so emotive in the chorus and the background choir that joins really adds to the gospel feel, “but go on/go on and take it/take it all with you/don’t look back/at this crumbling fool.” The album gets a mood lift with the optimistic I’ll Be Waiting. Opening with a cool drum beat, it moves to a groovy piano and brass beat that revitalizes the record. After all the vengeful and melancholic tracks, it’s a bit refreshing to have a song that’s more upbeat and bright. The jazzy feel is addicting and her cheery vocals are such a joy to hear. The vibrancy picks up again in the pre-chorus when the brass instruments crescendo and her voice rises with excitement, “but we had time against us/miles between us/the heavens cried/I know I left you speechless.” With an infectious pop-like chorus, it’s easy to be entranced by this song. The melody in the chorus is super catchy and even though the lyrical matter isn’t as happy as you would expect from such a bouncy beat, it’s still a delicious departure for her, “I’ll be waiting for you when you’re ready to love me again/I’ll put my hands up/I’ll do everything different/I’ll be better to you.” The harmonies that occur and her backing vocals are amazing and really add to the pleasant vibe. Things do slow down a bit in the bridge, where it gets a nice little dose of country swag and she manages to get in one fantastic belt. Her vocals at the end are top-notch and make a lasting impact. Overall, it’s a must-hear and it’s a shame that this is the only time you get to see this side of her.
One And Only brings the soul back with a soothing piano and an impeccable performance from the songstress. She uses her low register for this track and it’s so stunning. In the calm verses, her voice flutters to the piano licks. It’s her most soulful approach on the record and it’s one of my favourites. Unlike the other tracks, it’s not emotionally polarizing because it stands between a depressing sound and a positive one. Just as the chorus begins, the song’s gospel elements flood in. The organ adds a feel-good and romantic tone that goes with her gospel-tinged vocals perfectly, “I dare you to let me be your, your one and only/promise I’m worthy to hold in your arms/so come on and give me a chance.” I really like the bridge because of the vocal layers. The instrumental is very percussion and piano-driven but mellow and two sets of her vocals are layered over each other. Her subtle background belting is beautiful and it slowly moves to the forefront as the choir and strings join her which makes it even more amazing. I love how the strings are incorporated in the final chorus because it makes it sweeter. Next up is her cover of Lovesong by The Cure and it’s her most simplistic offering. Adele tones done her vocals, only allowing them to flow softly to the serene acoustic instrumentation of guitars and strings. There’s a lingering feel of darkness that invades the melody and it really makes the song for me. The song is highly structured. The verses are pretty much identical to each other and follow a specific pattern, “whenever I’m alone with you/you make me feel like I am home again/whenever I’m alone with you/you make me feel like I am whole again.” The song remains in the same tempo but does switch it up by rotating between strings and guitars. The chorus is beyond simple but it works and it’s so touching, “however far away I will always love you/however long I stay I will always love you/whatever words I say I will always love you.” It’s a very haunting ballad and despite being so minimal compared to the others, it’s one of the standout songs.
Someone Like You is the album’s biggest hit and the most popular song of 2011. There probably isn’t a single person alive who hasn’t heard this song. It’s been a long time since a ballad has blown up and loved by the masses like this but it’s wonderful to see a song of this caliber being appreciated. With a sweeping piano and vocals drenched in agony, this is one of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard in my life. This ballad has her dealing with heartbreak again but this is the moment that the album has built up to. The verses are calm and collected as she sings to the fact that her ex-lover has moved on and found someone else, “I heard that you’re settled down/that you found a girl and you’re married now/I heard that your dreams came true/guess she gave you things I didn’t give to you.” Her singing picks up speed for the melodic pre-chorus and when she enters the chorus, that’s when she lets her emotions run loose. “Never mind, I’ll find someone like you/I wish nothing but the best for you too,” she cries and you can feel the anguish seep out of her. Her performance on this track is flawless and I love the way her voice falters and she loses composure when she sings “don’t forget me, I beg.” Lyrically and musically, it’s quite simple but in it’s simplicity it’s resonated with millions because of how relatable it is. It’s a marvelous song about heartbreak that evokes such an intense sense of pain. It’s a perfect ballad and one that will be remembered for a very long time. Adele covers another track and this time it’s If It Hadn’t Been For Love by the Steeldrivers. There’s a slight fading effect on her voice which makes it sound like a live recording and it adds to the overall mood. The old school country groove is delightful as are her soulful vocals, “never woulda hitch hiked to Birmingham/if it hadn’t been for love/never woulda caught the train to Louisiana/if it hadn’t been for love.” The music doesn’t change in the chorus but her voice moves to a higher register and her background vocals kick in. It’s not a favourite but I like its calm sound and her vocal runs at the end are pretty.
Continuing on with the covers is Hiding My Heart by Brandi Carlile. Introduced by a laid-back acoustic guitar, it’s very similar to the previous song in terms of the feel that the acoustics set up but it’s more emotional. The song isn’t as brilliant as her original material but it’s a very nice listen. It’s calm, relaxing and fits in with the thematic structure of the album, “but like everything I’ve ever known/you’ll disappear one day/so I’ll spend my whole life hiding my heart away.” Nothing much happens so it’s not too memorable. It’s mostly just enjoyable because of her vocals. The iTunes bonus, I Found A Boy, is a huge change for Adele and has her singing about finding new love with someone else. “But I found a boy who I love more/than I ever did you before/so stand beside the river I cried/and lay yourself down/look how you want me now that I don’t need you,” she asserts in the chorus which is a far cry from the rest of the album. This is another guitar-driven mid-tempo so it loses any lasting effect because it ends up sounding too similar and lackluster to the other songs. The bridge is the best part because the tempo rises a little as the guitars become livelier and she sings more spontaneously. The final chorus benefits from the change in tempo so it does redeem itself near the end.
Conclusion: 21 is going to go down in history as one of the best albums of this decade. This isn’t just a case of hype because the album deserves everything that it has achieved. It’s been such a long time since a singer like Adele has had a tremendous impact on the music industry. Through countless awards, breaking records and making history, Adele has created an album that brings the focus back on the music and not on the gimmicks or look of the artist. It’s refreshing to see a singer not care about their looks and only care about what really matters, the music. 21 is a vast improvement over her debut in every way possible. The songs are more powerful, more emotional and her voice is out of this world. She has so much control over her voice and I love how she’s allowed it to expand on this record. There are some glorious belts and notes that she hits that she didn’t do very often on her debut. The album, like her first, does become too familiar by the time you get to the end but that’s only including the bonus tracks which are mostly covers anyway. Adele dominated 2011 and rightly so. She deserves all the success she has received and will receive in the future. She’s already become an icon and it’s not a surprise that she took the world by storm because there isn’t anyone out there right now with a voice like hers, making music that is this good.
Recommended Tracks: Set Fire To The Rain, Someone Like You, Rolling In The Deep, Turning Tables, Lovesong, One And Only and I’ll Be Waiting
Tags: Ayumi Hamasaki, Hamasaki Ayumi, Party Queen, Review, 浜崎あゆみ
- Party queen
- Shake It♥
- reminds me
- Return Road
- Tell me why
- a cup of tea
- the next LOVE
- Eyes, Smoke, Magic
- Serenade in A minor
- how beautiful you are
Party Queen caused quite a commotion earlier this year as details for it began to emerge. Firstly, Ayumi announced her separation from Manuel, her husband, which wasn’t surprising at all but it did lead to a lot of drama. In addition, many were shocked by the record’s provocative covers which had her wearing only her lingerie while others were refreshed by the bold move, especially after the divorce. It appeared that the album was headed into a very dance-centered direction which it does touch upon but only briefly because it eventually delves into deeper and darker material. She does try to shake the album up by working with a new producer, Timothy Wellard, who also made an appearance in FIVE for the production of BRILLANTE and even joined a fan forum to spill details on Ayumi. He eventually fell out of favour with some fans due to his overexposure in her work. With everything surrounding the album, it seemed like she was branching out and trying something new and I was on board for it.
The album begins with its title track, Party queen, and the European electro aspects are immediately apparent as a bunch of crazy synths come to life. It starts off with a computer-like synth riff until it becomes overpowered by an intense drum and synth beat. She sounds a little weird on the verses because she talks her way through them with the sound of clinking glasses and the pouring of drinks in the background. They’re not that interesting but once the music picks up it gets much better and she begins singing to the beat. The chorus is kind of catchy with its raving dance beat and her repetition of “I am the party queen.” However, her tone keeps this from being a top track. She performs with her cute voice and it doesn’t go with the gritty underground sound. The track concludes with creepy laughter and leads to the police sirens that introduce the next party song, NaNaNa. The arrangement is vastly superior due to the sinister and aggressive growl of the electro beats. The gritty and dark melody instantly captured me and her creepy whispering of “tick tick tick tick tock tick” is a great way to start things. Her voice is much better and her lower range goes so well with the disturbing composition. Unfortunately, Tim is included and his sections are so bad. He offers nothing but cheesy and spoken rap-like sections before the chorus that bring the song down, “all the gorgeous boiz/come and make some noise.” After his tragic performances, she manages to salvage with the chorus which has a nice vocoder effect on her voice and the music lightens up but still keeps the infectious synths. This would have been a flawless track if it wasn’t for Tim but, regardless of his inclusion, the raving melody is more than enough to make this a favourite.
The fun continues with Shake It♥ and her vocalizing introduction is very catchy. This is another aggressive track but, unlike the previous songs, this one relies on guitars to bring out a gritty sound. A steady drum beat leads the verses with the occasional spazz of guitar while her voice cynically dances to the beat. Eventually, her backing vocals kick in to make it catchier. The chorus is unexpectedly dramatic with its array of beats and her heightened, rapid delivery. The rock influence comes out as she repeats “shake it” and Tim makes another appearance but only for the backing vocals. Not only is there a whole lot of rock but the bridge throws in a dubstep breakdown that oddly enough shifts to a brass section before the last chorus. It’s very weird but it’s pretty cool. I really enjoy the aggressive sound that she plays with and the heavy electronic elements are glorious. Even the interlude, taskebab, brings the heat despite its silly name. It’s all about rock here and its massive guitar assault is wicked cool. Too bad this isn’t an actual song because the melody is tremendous. It kicks into overdrive as a synth line appears, speeding up and exploding into a duo of rock and electro. This is such a waste as an interlude because it would have made such an energetic rock anthem. Her interludes don’t always make sense with the song that they lead into and that’s exactly what happens here. Not only that, but the album does a complete 180 because from this point on the dance anthems end and it returns to her general style of music. call is a soothing pop rock tune, unlike the hardcore interlude. The acoustic guitar is quite lovely and has a fresh summer air. In the chorus, her voice gets much louder compared to the instrumental which does crescendo quite a bit with it’s arrangement of rock and there’s some sweet male backing vocals thrown in too. While it has a carefree attitude, there’s a lingering sadness that comes through her voice. It’s a gorgeous contrast and the combination of emotions that runs in this song makes this much more than just a typical pop rock hit.
The pop rock continues for Letter but the melody here is mellow and transcends into a very elegant state for the chorus. With a larger focus on heavy rock, she begins the verses with luscious and deep vocals. Even though I enjoyed her voice in the previous song, it is much more to my liking here. She sings powerfully and puts a lot more emotion into her intonation which is complimented by the dynamic instrumentation. All of this is enhanced in the chorus, where the strings burst to life and her voice soars beautifully. This isn’t an immensely catchy track but her voice and the dark, passionate production works wonders together. I like this a lot more than I expected I would. reminds me comes on to the scene with its ear-catching introduction of melancholic strings that flourish as they progress. Just as the magnificent procession of strings reaches its climax, it suddenly dies and in its place comes a soft acoustic guitar joined by her sweet voice. The sudden change in tempo and atmosphere is startling at first but the warmth of the acoustics is soothing as are her vocals. However, the song doesn’t stop there because it changes into an explosive rock ballad. Just before entering the massive hook, the electric guitars roar to life and the strings come back with a fury. Her voice is filled with a passion that has yet to be seen on this record and it’s marvelous, filled to the brim with emotion. Her ad-libbing as the strings work their magic is stunning and then the descent into a heavy rock breakdown takes it to the next level. I was expecting a return to another acoustic verse but the song just continues with the chorus. I love the intensity that she displays and it makes this a standout. Her vocalizing at the end creeps into desperate cries that are filled with tremendous pain. She does offer one final taste of warmth as the song calms back into the acoustics for its finale.
Lamenting strings introduce the power ballad Return Road and they lead into an epic organ with the twinkling of chimes in the background. This overly dramatic segment settles down for the verse which is composed of a piano and strings. Her delivery is as soft as the instruments are but this is short-lived because the chorus brings the song to its highest point where the strings and percussion lead her into emotional disarray. The bridge contains a bizarre mix of dramatic strings and the random clash of piano keys that are accompanied by operatic male vocals that reflect her inner turmoil. The final chorus is given an extra punch of drama as the operatic vocals back her up. It’s a little touch that makes a big difference. This is another excellent track and one of the album’s best offerings. Tell me why somewhat follows in the footsteps of the last few songs but in a much lighter way. Her “oohs” at the very start are stunning. With the piano, they create such a haunting introduction that pulls you into its state of sadness. The subtle gloominess that looms around the verses is overwhelming and the percussion adds a sense of emptiness. When it moves into the chorus, strings are added to the mix and her voice takes on a depressing tone that gives the song a stronger emotional pull. This ballad doesn’t contain the surprises or dramatics of the previous ones but that’s what I like about it. It’s a raw ballad that allows her to really express herself and bring about a sense of sadness. It’s very chill and soothing despite its depressing tone. a cup of tea, the second interlude, leads the album away from the dark and tragic tone that the middle section sets up. After the misleading procession of strings at the start, the interlude delves into dubstep territory with a sinister twist. It’s kind of quirky but there’s nothing too amazing about it.
the next LOVE takes Ayumi to a new style with a velvety smooth classic and jazz composition. The classic elements act as the introduction with Ayumi ad-libbing sweetly before a dramatic clash of strings leads to the inclusion of the silky jazz beat. Her voice gently glides along the piano, setting up a delicious lounge feel. Her voice gains strength as the instrumental spirals into a powerful blend of strings in the chorus. I love how the bridge gains momentum and she sings quickly to the ecstatic tempo change. It’s a really nice change of style for her. It’s a great combination of sultry vocals and instruments while still maintaining a powerful hook. The sound of a ringing phone followed by deranged laughter introduces the next jazz themed number, Eyes, Smoke, Magic. Unlike the last, this one takes a page from Broadway and has her whispering “eyes, smoke, magic” to a snapping beat. It just screams Broadway with its eccentric jazz-influenced melody. Throughout the verses, there’s the occasional spazz of beats that emphasize the theatrical aspect of the track. Midway in, after the first chorus, everything picks up into a sugary breakdown with Ayumi speeding up to the beat. The surprise of instruments never stops because the song continues to throw different elements into the mix. The end captures the finale of musicals because of the brass instruments and her strong ad-libs. The composition is certainly the highpoint and it’s such a drastic sound for her. The one thing I don’t really like is how cute her voice gets in some parts but it goes with the melody pretty well so it’s not too bad. Serenade in A minor is the last interlude and it’s the complete opposite of the others. This one is all about serenity and beauty. The strings carry a haunting atmosphere that is melancholic yet breathtaking. It’s not groundbreaking by any means but you can’t go wrong with a lovely serenade of strings. The good thing about this is that it leads into how beautiful you are perfectly. The final track is a classic Ayumi ballad and it stands out because it’s the only one that boasts a simple instrumentation. The album has been a mixed bag of electropop, rock ballads and jazz and this is absolutely refreshing. Supported by a lonely piano, she graces with her soft voice and despite a very basic set up, I really like how it comes together. Everything is kept to a bare minimum for most of the song and when the strings creep in for the chorus, it suddenly is filled with an uplifting and self-empowering mood. The way she sings the title is sweet and encouraging. The song gets even better when the male backing vocals are added during the bridge and continue into the last chorus where she performs with much more passion. It definitely closes the album on a high note.
Conclusion: Party Queen turned out to be something I was not expecting at all. I was actually looking forward to a complete dance-oriented album where she would let herself go wild. That seemed to be the direction she was heading with the first three songs but once they’re over she reverts back to her usual sound which is disappointing. I would have loved to see her fully embrace the sound that she explored at the start because it would have been so refreshing for her. In addition, there’s a lack of focus because the first part of the album doesn’t have much to do with the latter half. Despite my nitpicking, the songs themselves are not bad at all and most of my favourites come later on. It’s just that I would have really liked her to take a risk rather than stick to the same tired formula. The dramatic nature of the majority of the tracks is fantastic and the main reason they are so enjoyable. They are powerful and extremely emotional, bordering on very dark themes. Party Queen sees her trying to slowly reach out of her comfort zone and hopefully she does an even bigger leap in the future.
Recommended Tracks: how beautiful you are, Return Road, reminds me, Shake It♥, NaNaNa, Tell me why and Letter
Tags: Amuro Namie, Namie Amuro, Review, Uncontrolled, 安室奈美恵
- In The Spotlight (TOKYO)
- GO ROUND (‘N ROUND ‘N ROUND)
- Sit! Stay! Wait! Down!
- Hot Girls
- Break It (AL Ver.)
- Get Myself Back
- Love Story
- Let’s Go
- SINGING “YEAH-OH”
- Fight Together
- ONLY YOU
After a handful of double A-sides and one triple A-side, Namie announced her tenth album, Uncontrolled, to celebrate her 20th anniversary. Since the album is filled with so many A-sides, she decided to touch a few of them up and even turned two of them into full English tracks. This is the first album that I’ve heard from her that has so many songs performed in English. I wasn’t sure how I would like them because I have never been a fan of her English but I was impressed by the risk she was taking. It’s always a good thing to see an artist try something different and succeed doing it.
Namie begins with In The Spotlight (TOKYO), the first English song on the album. “I feel alive/and tonight’s my night/I’ve got nothing to hide/I’m dancing in the spotlight,” she professes to a simple synth line but once it hits the verse it becomes a dance floor anthem. She takes on a very commanding presence in them and the beat is amazing. The synths take a backseat for the drums which are so crazy and infectious. It slows down again in the chorus but in the second half the synths crescendo into a raving dance beat. It sounds much more exciting with the upbeat melody. In the bridge, Namie goes wild to marching drums and it’s so much fun. The melody has a European sound to it so it plays on current trends but it’s really good. I’m surprised by how much I like the song and her English is fantastic. She’s improved tremendously over the years and there isn’t anything that is hard to understand. This is a great track to open the album because it’s fun, addicting and shows growth. NAKED has the most interesting composition on the entire record. It is an electronic paradise. The synth line is a psychedelic trip of epic proportions and it’s very heavy. Her light voice holds it’s own against the barrage of beats which become more intricate and advanced as the verses progress. Sighing background vocals add a sexy flair to the song and the spiraling synths that lead into the chorus are delicious. The chorus packs a massive punch and she delivers an energetically-charged performance. Her vocals are perfect, filled with excitement and power. I was hooked the first time I heard it and it’s still fresh. It’s just hardcore electro and every second of it is gold. The breakdown before the second verse and in the bridge is awesome. They’re filled with a variety of beats and beeps that get crazier as they go on. Namie ends this masterpiece by repeating “make up your mind now” to the heavy synth line. This is such an immensely wicked track and it’s my favourite song.
GO ROUND (‘N ROUND ‘N ROUND) is the first song to receive a makeover and it’s now sung entirely in English. Also, the intro is cut a few seconds short compared to the original but it’s not that big of a deal. I loved Go Round and I was a bit worried with how the English version would turn out even if there was already a lot of English in it. While some parts are a step down, the overall charm remains intact. Melody-wise, it has a catchy synth beat with mechanical mishaps and I love the flow of her voice. There’s a cute tinge to it despite the subject matter and I really like the lyrics, “still like the way that you stay on my mind when you leave (my mind when you leave)/still like the sound of your voice on my answer machine (on my answer machine).” The flow just gets more addicting in the pre-chorus and it shifts into an adorable delicacy for the chorus. The heavy synth beats wrap around her sweet vocals and the way she raises her register as she sings “go round (‘n round, ‘n round, ‘n round)” is so good. There’s only one thing about the new version that disappoints me and it’s the outro. Since the words “days” and “tears” are no longer used in the chorus, she only repeats “how many times” instead of “how many times/how many days/how many tears” which causes it to lose some of its emotion. Sit! Stay! Wait! Down! is relatively new for me because I didn’t become familiar with it as I did with the other singles. It’s humorous because she relates her lover to a dog and it’s a whole lot of fun. She uses deeper vocals this time and the arrangement is made of bouncing percussion and synths. It’s very contagious and I love its quirkiness. The song slows down a bit in its pre-chorus and she throws in some nice backing vocals. The transition to the chorus is amazing because the vocals and synths become wacky. With her fast-paced singing and hilarious dog references, the chorus is the highlight. It’s not an all-out dance track but it has a fantastic groove and it’s too cute when she sings the title. She’s so playful and the icing on the cake is the bridge when she repeats “good boy.” I love the soft dance feel and it’s great to see her be a bit silly.
“Round and round they go/where they stop no one knows,” she whispers at the start of Hot Girls before the dominant drum melody comes in for the repetitive but catchy hook. She takes an in-your-face approach for the chorus and the line “hot girls make the world go round” easily gets stuck in your head from all the times she repeats it. The synths imitate the pounding of the percussion and her voice gets a slight dose of vocoder in the verses. The melody is simple and very western but its heaviness is quite nice. The pre-chorus is much more enticing because the synths kick in and her voice rises, flowing wonderfully to the beat. The bridge features some heavy panting which is pretty sexy and she sings the chorus to a different beat. I’m not crazy about this song because it’s very generic but it’s catchy so it’s not that bad. Break It (AL ver.) came as a surprise to me because I didn’t know it was getting a makeover. Sadly, this new arrangement doesn’t live up to the original which was perfect to begin with. The funky guitar riff is replaced with a hard synth line that isn’t as infectious. In addition, her vocals have a bizarre muffling effect so she doesn’t sound as clear as she did before. However, I still really like the song. The new arrangement isn’t all that bad because the gritty sound of the synths does give it a slightly stronger feel. The chorus is explosive and it’s still immensely catchy. The post-chorus is just as great and she repeats “break it, break it, break it all/shout it, shout it, shout your soul” over a kick-ass beat. The outro was my favourite part and the raging guitars are still included, although muffled, so I’m happy they didn’t change that too much. It’s a shame that they messed with the melody but this is still one of the best tracks.
Halfway through the album and the first ballad, Get Myself Back, finally makes an appearance. Sweet licks of a piano start this incredible R&B ballad but it then soars into a grand melody. The piano becomes livelier and the added percussion compliments its elegance. She sings with soft, lighthearted vocals for the verses which are dominated by the percussion. The arrangement opens up to include a variety of different beats and as it nears the chorus the strings, piano and backing vocals flood in, elevating the serene atmosphere exponentially. This song oozes summery goodness and the chorus is heavenly. The melody is so vibrant and feel-good. The organic instruments are beautiful and the added touch of synths is wonderful. I love the sequence of strings after the chorus because her “ohs” are so catchy. The summer vibe makes this a fresh ballad and a standout in her discography. It’s compelling and performed beautifully. Her voice is warm, welcoming and with the lush instrumental is stunning. Love Story makes for back-to-back ballads and it’s just as great. While the previous one was happy and full of positive energy, this one relies on a more emotional performance. Fragile and vulnerable, her deep voice flows in with a breathless composition of piano, strings and snapping beats. The chimes that flutter in are magical and her tone is gentle and loving. In the chorus, the melody crescendos beautifully as her passionate vocals soar through it. It’s powerful and her emotional vocals make it a gem. It’s a very simple ballad but it’s anything but boring. It’s crafted smartly with a melody that pulls you in immediately and her voice is amazing.
After that little break, the album shoots right back into another banger, Let’s Go. The synths go hard in this rocking track and the drums that join them provide an even stronger punch. Namie takes a confrontational style of delivery and she gets more aggressive as the song progresses, especially in the chorus when the song hits its climax. The verses rely on a gritty sound but as soon as it reaches the pre-chorus the synths shift into dance/trance where she sings the catchiest part, “it’s the idea, the idea, idea of you/it gets me going, going/it gets me going, going.” The chorus continues with the heavy trance and the energy from the vocals and instrumental is incredible. It’s super addicting and she lets out her playful side during the bridge where she chants and shouts. This track borrows from the sound and attitude of her rock tracks but does it in a fun, electronic way. The mysterious and sexy SINGING “YEAH-OH” is next and it’s a delicious dance hit. The synth line is absolute fire and her voice snakes its way around it, making for one of the hottest verses on the record, “somebody stop me ‘cause I think I can’t keep in control (no, no).” It ends up with a very infectious and seductive flair. In addition, her English on this track is good and it’s on par with the original. The switch in melody for the pre-chorus gives it a positive dance vibe and her tone is more enthusiastic than sexual. The chorus is catchy but nowhere as amazing as the verses. It’s very dance-centered but the sensuality of the verses should have been incorporated. However, the bridge is fantastic and it starts with a fun breakdown before it darkens with her low, distorted vocals. This is sleek, sexy and cool, another great track from Namie.
Fight Together oozes vibrancy with its overly cheerful synths. The composition’s feel-good air is contagious and exhilarating. The synths drown in the verses as the percussion takes over and her cute vocals bounce happily to bopping beat. I really like her backing vocals after each stanza in the verse and the sudden change to jazz for the pre-chorus caught me off guard. It definitely makes the song interesting and works as a great lead up to the chorus. The hook is a blast of grand synths and she gets to show off her vocal strength. When she shouts “we fight together,” it gives off such a strong feeling of camaraderie that is quite epic. In the bridge, there are even more surprises because all the electronic instruments die for a small taste of gorgeous live instruments. I totally love the outro where she repeats “life goes on.” It’s such a simple closing but it has such a massive impact and the a capella at the end is a nice touch. Namie performs in English one last time for ONLY YOU, a sentimental mid-tempo and another favourite. Despite the pronunciation issues, this is a sweet track with an uplifting melody. Eventually, the percussion kicks in making it more upbeat and catchier. Her voice is very pleasant, especially during the chorus when her voice rises with emotion and passion. Her “the only thing that can touch me is you” lines are cheesy but they’re addicting and it’s the part of the song that doesn’t leave your head. After the second chorus, her voice shines with the vocal runs she does and the little segment of piano is a sweet surprise. It adds a serene and more sentimental feel as well as making for a great lead back into the chorus. Uncontrolled ends in a beautiful way with the power ballad Tempest. This is the album’s major ballad and it’s easily the best I’ve heard from her. Beginning with a gentle, magical piano and her extraordinary, soft vocals, this is a masterpiece from the start. She’s never sounded so good and her voice is simply stunning. The song transcends to another level in the majestic chorus because the soaring strings crescendos the melody into a heavenly state and her belting is fabulous. The dreamy atmosphere that envelops the chorus is beautiful and really gives it that grandiose sound. I’m so amazed by her voice because it’s so powerful here. I’ve never heard her sing like this and it’s mind-blowing.
Conclusion: Uncontrolled didn’t wow me the first time I listened to it and the changes to some of the songs left me bitter because none of them needed to be tweaked. After getting used to the new English versions, they’re not that bad at all and her English has improved incredibly. It’s actually cool to see her take such a bold move and the songs still have the charm that the Japanese versions had. The ballads are all incredible and I love each and every one of them. Even though there aren’t many new songs, I don’t have any issue with that because all the singles have been great and together they make a strong unit. I wasn’t planning on giving this album a perfect rating but the more I listen to it the more I love it. She never fails to deliver and this is the first Japanese release of the year to blow me away.
Recommended Tracks: NAKED, Tempest, Get Myself Back, GO ROUND (‘N ROUND ‘N ROUND), SINGING “YEAH-OH”, ONLY YOU, Sit! Stay! Wait! Down! and Break It (AL ver.)
Tags: Jason Aldean, Kara DioGuardi, Kelly Clarkson, Review, Stronger
- Mr. Know It All
- What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger)
- Dark Side
- You Love Me
- Standing In Front Of You
- I Forgive You
- The War Is Over
- Let Me Down
- You Can’t Win
- Breaking Your Own Heart
- Don’t You Wanna Stay (with Jason Aldean)
- Don’t Be A Girl About It
- The Sun Will Rise (feat. Kara DioGuardi)
- Why Don’t You Try
Kelly Clarkson has always been an artist that I look forward to hearing. After releasing her fourth album, All I Ever Wanted, I had no idea what she would have in store for her next release. As much as I liked the album, it was very apparent that she did not feel comfortable with the way her label was painting her to the public. She even confessed that she didn’t recognize herself in photos because of all the Photoshop they used. The label pushed her into a specific look in order to sell more records and even hired the popular producers at the time to ensure she would have hits. This was a far-cry from My December where she had a lot more control and input, making for a very personal and emotional record. Stronger brings her back to her usual sound of pop-rock but it’s more mature than it was before. Wanting to make an album that emphasized her vocals, she strived to make it sound like her live performances. The album balances the personal and raw aspect of My December with the infectious hooks of Breakaway and All I Ever Wanted. Stronger is a culmination of everything she’s done and yet she still manages to make it sound fresh and stand out from anything she’s done.
Mr. Know It All is her first lead-single that avoids the pop-rock sound that she comes back with. Unlike her past singles, which have always been upbeat and aggressive, this one is her calmest yet. The acoustic guitar and piano that lead the track are breathtaking and develop such a serene atmosphere. The percussion comes in with Kelly and her vocals are so clear, strong and raw. Despite the rather calm feel of the instrumental, her voice is very in-your-face which works wonders with the subject matter, “Mr. Know It All/well you, you think you know it all/but you don’t know a thing at all.” The chorus takes the gorgeous melody even further as the lineup of instruments crescendos into a blissful tempo. She sings powerfully but with gorgeous and delicate tones, “oh you think that you know me, know me/that’s why I’m leaving you lonely, lonely/‘cause baby you don’t know a thing about me/you don’t know a thing about me.” I love how the second half of the chorus gets much more aggressive in terms of both the melody and vocal delivery. The song throws in some lovely strings in the bridge and even overlaps parts of the chorus over one another for the end. Vocally, she remains consistent but she does throw in some amazing belts in the final chorus. The song has a bit of the old and the new which makes it a fantastic start for the album. What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger) is the big pop-rock anthem and the theme that the album is built around. This is a good old-fashioned Kelly track and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. “You know the bed feels warmer/sleeping here alone,” she sings to an infectious guitar and synth riff. It starts off with a mid-tempo feel but pounding drums and a gritty electric guitar bring it up a level until it fully transitions into dance-pop for the chorus. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger/stand a little taller/doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone,” she belts in the explosive chorus. It’s a powerful, infectious and completely empowering moment. She sounds amazing and her voice shines through the entire track. The rock and dance elements blend perfectly for one of the catchiest hooks on the record. Usually, she does these types of songs in an angst way but this time it’s feel-good and uplifting, “you know in the end the day you left was just my beginning.” It’s such a nice twist to her pop-rock sound.
A sweet music box and soft ad-libs open Dark Side, one of my favourite songs. This was well-received by fans but it wasn’t what I was expecting at all. From the title alone, I assumed it was going to be dark rock but it’s actually a lovely mid-tempo about being loved despite your imperfections. Her voice is soft and exudes a beautiful vulnerability as she begins to open up while the instrumental contrasts with her raw tones as it builds up aggressively, “there’s a place that I know/it’s not pretty there and few have ever gone/if I show it to you now/will it make you run away?” The song pops in the chorus due to the exuberant synths and her soaring vocals, “everybody’s got a dark side/do you love me?/can you love mine?” There’s a dark, haunting vibe to the melody but a shimmer of hope comes through, especially during the bridge where a bright air takes over, “just tell me that you will stay/promise me you will stay.” The track ends as all the instruments die out leaving just Kelly and the sweet music box as she recites the bridge one last time. This is a superb love song with a resounding message. The first real ballad, Honestly, is one of her best and most raw pieces of work. The soft plucking of a guitar and the calm synths set up a haunting and magical ambience. “Could you love somebody like that?/could you attract someone like that?” she wonders with a fragility that is shiver-inducing. Her voice melts into the melody and she delivers with intense passion. It’s the most heartfelt moment on the record and it’s both tragic and beautiful. The music crescendos just a bit for the chorus where she begins to plead “face me/make me listen to the truth even if it breaks me/you can judge me, love me/if you’re hating me, do it honestly.” The chorus is overflowing with raw emotion and her voice is so luscious. She pours her heart out and it tugs at your heart. She cries out desperately in the bridge to the spiraling synths and following this is one of her most amazing vocal performances. Her voice dips into high, angelic notes that are simply stunning. The power, emotion and vulnerability in her voice is overwhelming. This has become my favourite ballad by her.
You Love Me is an emotional, upbeat track that is super infectious. She finds herself surrounded by the sound of a bouncing guitar and drumline. She throws in some stuttering that is so addicting. There’s quite a nice groove to the melody and her voice shines clear and bright. Once she gets to the chorus, she shifts into a sad but aggressive stance and the arrangement blossoms into a delicious pop-rock tune, “you didn’t let me down/you didn’t tear me apart/you just opened my eyes/while breaking my heart.” I love how the song has an upbeat, almost vibrant feel while the lyrical content is the complete opposite. She embodies both of these aspects as she performs with sadness to her voice but still manages to tell the person off. Her vocal prowess is nothing short of amazing. Einstein is a straight-up diss track with a sassy attitude. Unlike the previous songs, this one has a gritty taste to it because of the screechy guitars. Chock-full of math references, “simple math/our love divided by the square root of pride/multiply your lies plus time/I’m going out of my mind,” she delivers with spunk and an in-your-face attitude. It’s an interesting way to describe a love gone wrong and the arrangement is quite charming. It’s not a all-out assault of guitars but a nice subtle beat blended with a sick synth line. Her “oohs” in the chorus are to die for and her laid-back but badass vocals flow infectiously along to the melody, “I didn’t get it the first time/but don’t think I’ve been so blind/yeah I may not be Einstein but I know/dumb plus dumb equals you.” It isn’t as outgoing as the others but it’s very catchy.
Standing In Front Of You provides a sigh of relief. It’s a gentle ballad that boasts a soft acoustic instrumental. Kelly graces the verses with carefree vocals, backed up by quite a heavy but slow drum beat. The atmosphere is breezy and relaxing, a wonderful song to sink into and enjoy. I absolutely adore when her voice rises ever so slightly into a higher register just before the chorus, “even though it’s clear and sunny/and you fight it so hard/how to tell if it’s real or not.” It’s a gorgeous transition into the chorus which gets a delicious taste of strings. Her vocals harmonize with the touching melody and there’s no belting or any powerful moments. She tones it all down and effortlessly breathes out each note, “take a breath and listen/open up stop wishing/all that you’ve been missing’s/standing in front of you.” In the bridge, for a brief moment, she displays high tones that are simply divine. There’s no anger, attitude or sadness in this ballad. It’s a loving, sweet and rich song that stands on its own. I Forgive You is quite an unusual song for her in terms of its narrative. A buzzing guitar and synth line leads the way for a surprisingly bright concoction of pop-rock Rather than tearing someone down like she normally does, she sings about forgiveness which isn’t a theme that comes up a lot in her music. Halfway through the verses, the arrangement picks up with more beats. I love how the music fades completely right before the chorus and comes back with a vengeance. The guitars and drums thrash around while she sings without restrain, “I forgive you/we were just a couple of kids/trying to figure out how to live doing it our way.” The bright, optimistic sound of the chorus really provides a breath of fresh air. I really like the message she presents and without it the song wouldn’t have been as good. The arrangement is predictable and a bit typical but, overall, it’s a good listen.
Hello has quite a lively melody and is led by a guitar and clapping beat. The song has a fun and laid-back arrangement which remains steady for the most part. Her vocals are very balanced, never being too soft or too hard. Despite the cheerful nature of the melody, the lyrical content is very depressing, “hello, hello/is anybody listening?/let go/as everyone let’s go of me/oh oh, won’t somebody show me that I’m not alone, not alone.” This isn’t one of my favourites and like the previous song it doesn’t stand out much on its own because it sounds slightly similar to some of the other tracks. Things slow down again for The War Is Over, a triumphant ballad dipped in depressing overtones. Kelly begins, joined by the subtle sound of guitar chords, with a lingering sadness in her voice, “I watch the days rush by me like a river/I shouldn’t wait, but I’m scared to touch the water.” Vocally, lyrically and musically, this track is phenomenal. The guitars, as the song progresses, become less subtle and once it hits the pre-chorus the rest of the instrumentals flourish as her voice rises with determination, “I’m finally walking away/‘cause you don’t deserve me/and you’re not worthy.” The chorus is amazing with strong drums and marvelous vocals that are drenched in anger, pain and sadness, “and I won’t let you pull me in/because I know you’re gonna win/but the war is over.” She falls into a vulnerable state in the bridge with a stripped-down guitar until the melody picks up again and she channels all her anger into her voice, belting out incredible notes.
She unleashes a ruthless fury for Let Me Down, the pop-rock gem of the album. At first, it seems a bit similar to many of the other songs because of the guitar and drum beat but it throws in synths and a few piano licks for a dramatic effect. There are even some radio frequency and static effects in the background to spice it up. She sings with a mellow, spunky attitude for the verses but in the chorus she goes all-out, “you’re only gonna let me down/when it counts, you countdown/you’re only gonna turn me out/as I burn, you burn out.” The arrangement follows suit as the drums and guitars turn into a headbanging melody. It’s the most enticing and fist-pumping hook on the album and it’s perfect to rock out to. It gets even better during the bridge because the music darkens and her voice turns almost vixen-like, gaining power until she delivers her most intense vocal performance on the record. These intense vocals carry into the final chorus and give it a much stronger impact. It’s such an energetic rock track that will keep you moving. This is one of the album’s best songs. You Can’t Win is another flawless track and it’s a blast. With a groovy pop-rock melody, Kelly provides a fun and catchy song with a great message about the media, “if you’re thin, poor little walking disease/if you’re not, they’re all screaming obese.” The lyrics ring true for all celebrities and she speaks to the immense contradictions they have to go through. She takes an assertive stance in the bombastic chorus which has such a wonderful and cheerful air. I love the back and forth lyrical style because it reflects the media spot-on and it’s the reason the song is so good, “if you’re straight, why aren’t you married yet?/if you’re gay, why aren’t you waving a flag?” There’s no moment of relaxation here, it’s all in-your-face energy and attitude.
Breaking Your Own Heart is a sublime ballad made-up of an acoustic guitar that is accompanied by a lovely string arrangement. Her vocals flutter with a caring, protective tone that melts into the warm melody. Beautifully, the track utilizes a subdued taste of her pop-rock sound as electric guitars and drums take over for the chorus where she cries, “you’re breaking your own heart/taking it too far down the lonely road/you say you just want love/but when it’s close enough you just let it go.” Of course, she gets in a few powerful notes and surprisingly, throws in a massive guitar riff in the bridge which manages to fit in. The song is aesthetically pleasing and an enjoyable listen even if a little safe. I was torn and still am with Don’t You Wanna Stay (with Jason Aldean). The first time I heard it I wasn’t too impressed and I was terrified that she was going to go country for the next album. It’s just not a genre I wanted to see her fully embrace. Thankfully, my fears were put to rest and I do somewhat like it a lot more than I used to. The melody is actually quite soothing thanks to the country twang of the acoustic guitar. Jason’s vocals are good but he has such a typical country sound. There’s really nothing amazing about his parts but Kelly’s, on the other hand, are a different story. Her verse is comprised of gorgeous strings and a heavier beat. It just sounds much more beautiful and her voice is flawless. She makes this song worth listening to. The chorus gets a rockier edge and they harmonize well together. Her ad-libs near the end are powerful and amazing. I really love the instrumental outro of strings, drums and guitars. It’s a melodic and wonderful blend. Even though I’m not a huge fan of this track, it does show just how versatile she is.
Alone opens with a misleading cute piano because it then erupts into a delicious rock beat. It packs a punch but it also has a fun, breezy feel. This is another track that sounds happier than it actually is, “‘cause when I’m with you I’m alone/no matter what you say/I hope you know, woah/that I’m alone.” I love it when Kelly lets someone have it and this is no exception. The chorus is brimming with energy and it’s immensely infectious. It has a bubbly, vibrant composition that is also emulated in her voice. The optimistic tinge to the track makes sense in the end when she switches the lyrics, “when I’m with him I’m not alone/gets better everyday/I hope you know, oh/I’m not alone.” I love the sudden switch in her attitude and it sounds so much better when it all comes together. The repetition of “I’m not alone” at the end is just perfect and drives the message harder. Don’t Be A Girl About It is a pure fun and the catchiest song on the album. A fuzzy synth line is hooked up with a rumbling guitar as Kelly embarrasses her man, “I knew a guy who changed my world/and then he grew into a little girl.” The chorus is dominated by electrifying guitars and a spunky Kelly. It’s sassy, exciting and full of attitude. The chorus does borrow from a few of the other tracks but that’s not much of an issue because the pre-chorus is what makes the song spectacular. In the pre-chorus, her vocal harmonies are out of this world, “and ooh it’s not looking good/and ooh I’m not in the mood/and ooh I can’t get through/to you.” Her “oohs” are heavenly and the way she holds on to them is so damn contagious. This is the most fun she’s ever sounded and I love every minute of it.
The Sun Will Rise (feat. Kara DioGuardi) blooms with a haunting array of strings that paint the picture of a sun rise. Following this gorgeous intro is an acoustic guitar and her soft vocals. Her voice is so deep and luscious. The chorus is quite repetitive but its uplifting nature is a welcome addition and Kelly and Kara harmonize well together. The second verse is upbeat and Kara takes over with her bright, high vocals. I’ve never heard of her but she has a lovely voice. The second chorus picks up even more and they start singing with so much power. I love how the song just gets more vibrant as it goes on until the two of them sing “it’ll be alright” over and over again to the mellifluous beat. The second Why Don’t You try started, I was brought back to her early years. This is a huge throwback to her first album. She hasn’t done a soul, jazzy track since then and you can hear just how much she’s grown. The soulful melody is kept to a bare minimum and her voice is so silky. It’s a very simple song, relying solely on her voice to carry it. There’s nothing else on the album that sounds like it which really makes it a unique addition. There’s something about the chorus that just pulls you in and her vocal runs are stunning, “so why don’t you try/to make me stay/when it’s time to go.” It’s a treat to hear her return to this style and a nostalgic way to close the album.
Conclusion: Kelly has found a balance with Stronger that will please many fans. She’s managed to take the fun elements from her last album and make them much more mature. Unlike her previous albums, this one has a very specific sound and thematic structure. Stronger is all about empowerment and not about wallowing in heartbreak. Many of the songs share the same themes and some do end up sounding very similar to each other which is the album’s only shortcoming. Some of the songs lose their charm because it’s already been heard in a previous song. Her voice, as always, is extraordinary and she proves time and time again that pop singers do not need auto-tune/vocoder. The way she plays with her voice is much more interesting than any vocal effect. This isn’t her best album, My December still holds that title, but it is very close. Stronger doesn’t offer anything new and doesn’t experiment with any new sounds but it doesn’t have to. It’s a collection of emotional and powerful tunes that will tug at your heart and have you rocking out at the same time.
Recommended Tracks: Honestly, Let Me Down, What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger), Dark Side, You Love Me, Mr. Know It All, Einstein, The War Is Over, You Can’t Win and Don’t Be A Girl About It