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
Tags: All I Ever Wanted, Kelly Clarkson, Review
- My Life Would Suck Without You
- I Do Not Hook Up
- Don’t Let Me Stop You
- All I Ever Wanted
- Already Gone
- If I Can’t Have You
- Save You
- Long Shot
- I Want You
- If No One Will Listen
- Tip Of My Tongue
- The Day We Fell Apart
- Can We Go Back
Kelly Clarkson made a deal that after she released My December she would go back to a commercial sound for her fourth album. I had mixed feelings because I loved her third album and wanted her to continue in that direction. When I heard the lead single my hopes were shattered. I didn’t dislike it but it wasn’t the direction I wanted her to pursue. However, I decided to withhold my full judgment until I heard the album. When I did, my feelings were still conflicted. It was so commercial compared to anything she did before and it was so pop. I was upset by how it turned out and felt like it was a step back. Kelly went from penning all the tracks on her last album to penning only seven on this one. Furthermore, some of the songs were demos from other singers, like Katy Perry, so it was a bit disheartening to see her lose involvement. Eventually, I went back into it with a different mindset and ended up falling for it. What started to grow on me was that the album wasn’t angst and instead showed off a different side to her. After two moody albums, it’s great to see her changing it up.
My Life Would Suck Without You took a while to grow on me because I was hoping for something different but it’s extremely catchy and it’s refreshing to see such a bubbly love song from her. You notice the difference immediately as bright drums, guitars and synths barge in. Her voice is sparkling with a new life that’s rarely heard from her, “I know that I’ve got issues/but you’re pretty messed up too/either way I found out/I’m nothing without you.” It’s a cute, feel-good love anthem that’s a total 180 from her previous eras. A dance-pop flavour is intertwined with the rock beats in the chorus and her upbeat vocals wrap it all together in a beautiful way. It’s full of life and excitement. The synth arrangement brings the energy in a way that the rock elements alone couldn’t have. She rarely incorporates synths into her music so it’s a great twist to her usual pop rock sound. I Do Not Hook Up continues the fun and offers a great message for the youth of today, “oh no I do not hook up, up/I go slow/so if you want me/I don’t come cheap/keep your hand in my hand/and your heart on your sleeve.” Her vocals are on-point and they carry on the liveliness of the first song but she adds some sassiness to them. The blaring guitars are infectious and they’re even catchier during the chorus when they’re combined with a barrage of drums. The fun never ends due to the engaging instrumentation and her belts in the bridge are amazing. This has “hit” written all over it and it’s no surprise it ended up being a single. It has great vocals, energy and a much-needed message. Girl power dominates this track and it’s a success because of it.
The album takes a breather with Cry, a gorgeous power ballad. With sweeping strings and a strumming guitar, it’s your typical ballad but that’s never been a bad thing as long as it’s good and this is a great song. As it approaches the chorus, it gets a louder and grander rock arrangement before it finally explodes as she belts with breathtaking vocals, “is it over yet/can I open my eyes/is this as hard as it gets/is this what it feels like to really cry.” This is how you make a rock ballad and Kelly nails it vocally. The strings take on a new sound during the bridge. Their tempo is increased to give it just that little extra kick and her killer note at the end is flawless. Emotions run wild with the engrossing instrumental and her incredible vocals. Don’t Let Me Stop You packs a massive and hard rock melody that instantly grabs you and sucks you in. It settles down for the verses but it quickly picks up again in the pre-chorus, my favourite part of the song. Her melodic vocals take over and the flow is exquisite, “this is gonna sound kind of silly/but I couldn’t help but notice/the last time you kissed me/you kept both eyes open.” It’s so damn catchy and the hard beats reappear in the chorus to match her aggressive vocals. Kelly does not tone down her vocals one bit and they shine throughout, especially her ad-libs in the final chorus. She’s relentless as she tears down her so-called lover and the power circulating in this song is contagious.
All I Ever Wanted is groovy, intense, and straight-up amazing. A funky beat is brought on by the guitars and I love how addicting the “every day, every day, every minute” parts sound. At first, it gives of the appearance that it’s a simple mid-tempo but the second it enters the chorus it switches to a power anthem with Kelly belting out like no one else, “all I ever wanted/all I ever wanted/was a simple way to get over you.” The chorus is packed to the brim with emotion from both the instrumental and the vocals. The bridge is a total shift from the rest of the song because all the beats mellow out and some great backing vocals are thrown in. At first, it sounds slightly awkward but it’s grown on me and it acts as a strong transition into the powerful final chorus which is amazing thanks to all the different tones she uses for her ad-libs. This is a standout and should not be missed. The song that captured me instantly and is now one of my favourite songs is the phenomenal ballad Already Gone. This is, hands down, the biggest and most amazing ballad in her discography. It effortlessly blends a slew of emotions together. It’s tragic but not completely because it’s beautiful and there’s so much love in it. The emotions are conflicting and it really comes out in the lyrics, “it never would have worked out right, yeah/we were never meant for do or die/I didn’t want us to burn out/I didn’t come here to hurt you now I can’t stop.” A soaring piano and set of strings lead as an intense drum beat holds it all together. There’s a classical aspect to the instrumental that elevates it beyond a standard ballad. Her determined and vulnerable vocals lead you through a heartfelt story of friendship and love. “I want you to know/that it doesn’t matter/where we take this road/but someone’s gotta go/and I want you to know/you couldn’t have loved me better/but I want you to move on/so I’m already gone,” she cries in the chorus which is one of the saddest and most beautiful hooks I’ve ever heard. The bridge takes it to another level as the backing vocals create a euphoric state while she laments over them, “you can’t make it feel right/when you know that it’s wrong.” It’s an atmospheric and breathtaking moment that is simply stunning. This is pure gold and it will go down as one of her greatest songs.
If I Can’t Have You is unexpected coming from her because it’s a massive dance song. She’s never really ventured into dance music but she does it exceptionally well here. What I love about it is that it still contains her signature sound as the rock instruments are blended with infectious synths. The beat alone will get you moving but with her vocals you get more than a generic dance tune. She turns into a vixen as he sings with sexual, aggressive and wanting vocals, “hearts break too fast when they’re sentimental/won’t stay, won’t last when it’s love at first sight/so why are my convictions blinded by your spotlight?” The lyrics are clever and the rock elements make the synths more intense. This is a delicious hybrid and it only gets crazier when it erupts in the chorus. Kelly’s voice is vocoded slightly in the bridge as it slows down but a drumline comes stampeding through and makes it go back into dance mode. The song is ended by her frantically repeating the title until she finally sings “think of all the love that you will lose/if I can’t have you.” Kelly went outside of her comfort zone and she killed it. A sweet piano and guitar lead the way for the next ballad, Save You. Unlike the previous ones, it’s very bright and peaceful. Her vocals are strong and the harmonies during the pre-chorus are insane, “where were my senses?/I left them all behind/why did I turn away?” The backing vocals blend with her main vocals and it’s so beautiful. The chorus gets an unexpected aid from some synths that compliment the organic instruments. They sound very rich together and I love how it crescendos with an electric guitar as she sings “it’s gonna be alright.” The second chorus isn’t as empty because the percussion kicks in during it and follows into the second chorus. The piano and string breakdown and the flow of her vocals are lush. It’s a nice change to the melody and the song ends on a high as she throws in some amazing ad-libs.
Whyyawannabringmedown is short but it’s jam packed with a fury that has yet to be seen in Kelly. The guitars attack persistently with the pounding drums and the way she performs is so playful. She accentuates every syllable and it’s contagious, “this situation if it gets any deeper could be critical/I’m not your love monkey so be takin’ back all of the lies you sold.” In the chorus, everything becomes hyper as the instruments and vocals become fast-paced. Hearing her shout “so what’s your evil attitude?/when you got me spendin’ my time pleasing you/why must you keep me underground?/tell me tell me whyyawannabringmedown?” with such anger is a delight. After the bridge, a gritty guitar riff is utilized and makes the beat even harder. She kills yet another new sound and it’s easily the most playful track in her discography. The strings and haunting vocalizing in the introduction of Long Shot is misleading because in a few short seconds they’re replaced by a blazing guitar. The verses are incredibly strong and catchy, making them the highlight. They have a dramatic flair to them and the way she pauses every so often emphasizes this, “I felt it/the wire touched my neck/and then someone pulled it tighter/I never saw it coming.” Slowly, drums are added and it starts to fizzle out of the dramatic melody into a more fluid one. This is where the song loses its spark because it turns into a typical pop rock anthem. The chorus lacks the edge of the verses and it sounds a little too generic. The last chorus is the best of the three because her ad-libs and the layering of her vocals over each other make it sound richer.
Impossible is another favourite of mine. The first verse utilizes a decadent piano melody whereas the second verse is quite barren. There’s an a capella moment and she’s just supported by drums until the guitar joins. The two different sounds of the verses are equally great and they contain an inspiring message, “ain’t no need to dry my eyes I haven’t cried in quite some time/every day I fight it/you know it’s possible.” In contrast to the verses, the chorus has a busier instrumentation due to all the synths, rippling guitar riffs and deep bass beats. There’s a lot of power in it and its very addicting, “can’t rise above this place/won’t change your mind so I pray/breakin’ down the walls/do the impossible.” All the vocal harmonies and layers in the final chorus make for a strong conclusion. Ready begins with the cutest synth riff so far. A set of drums come in and the melody takes on a breezy summer feel and it even has a slight country twang to it. Her voice flutters in and dances around the vibrant beats, “I fly like stones in my heart/drowning in doubt, for what reason?/I sit so patiently/drenched in what you want me to be.” This song is adorable and its feel-good melody is addicting. As it goes on the beats get louder and quirkier, getting one final boost for the chorus. Her exciting shrills dominate the chorus and the repetitive lines stick to you like glue. The “ohs” are heavenly and I love the way she plays with her voice.
I Want You takes on a summer vibe too but it combines both a sexy and cute Kelly. It’s reminiscent of 70s/80s beach music with bubbly synths, drums and guitars. Her cool voice occasionally works its way into sexy tones, “kiss me, like when I first saw you/you figured out I couldn’t be without you,” and the way she stutters “I want you” is adorable and infectious. The background “yeahs” sound like they’re straight out of the jazz era. A lot of changes occur in the instrumental and it goes between high and deep beats. It switches tempo at the end and settles down into a soothing percussion and guitar beat. The final ballad, If No One Will Listen, doesn’t disappoint and surprisingly enough it’s the first track she’s produced. For her first time, she does an extraordinary job because it doesn’t sound any less impressive than the other tracks. In fact, it’s one of the most beautiful pieces. Thanks to the stripped-down melody, her vocals are allowed to breathe and take the stage, “maybe no one told you/there is strength in your tears/and so you fight to keep from pouring out.” Her vulnerable, breathless voice is stunning and she works her high register a lot throughout this ballad. The strings in the chorus bring an elegant atmosphere and a more depressing tone to the song. I wasn’t expecting it to pick up but in the second half the arrangement contains drums and the rest of the instruments don’t sound as tragic. The song brightens, most noticeably in the final chorus, and a sense of hope floods it, “if no one wants to look at you/for what you really are/I will be here still.” Her voice will definitely have ears locked on to this tune.
Tip Of My Tongue is one of her most memorable tunes and it finds her dabbing into R&B. A clapping drum beat and eerie synth riff paves the way for her tough, attitude-filled vocals, “never saw ‘I love you’ as a trend/‘cause I don’t really work like that/I mean what I say when it leaves my lips, oh.” The instrumental remains steady in the pre-chorus but she uses her high register to lure you in. In the chorus, the percussion is intensified, an electric guitar makes a sporadic mark, and her voice is much more dramatic, “‘cause goodbye’s on the tip of my tongue/tell me there’s a reason to stay/‘cause I’m about to get up and run.” Her backing vocals add to the atmosphere and her ad-libs in the post-chorus are so melodic. A dreamy atmosphere invades the bridge as a piano is thrown into the mix. It’s quite a shock to see the melody change so suddenly but it’s a nice surprise. I was ecstatic when I heard The Day We Fell Apart because it’s the only song that comes close to sounding like anything on My December. It’s hardcore, loud, in-your-face and she takes on a dark, seductive persona, “what happened to the man who used to take me/straight into misery?/I want you back and now I must admit it shames me/how could this be?” The bombardment of drums and angry guitar riffs is twisted and delicious. It’s the catchiest beat on the album and one of her best vocal performances. The chorus is intoxicating with her high energy vocals, “‘cause once I ran away/I loved you since the day/the day I broke your heart,” and the way she stutters “heart” and “apart” is amazing. In the post-chorus, she gets in some fantastic notes and it just blows me away every time I hear it. The energy never stops and it pumps you up like crazy. In the following choruses, backing vocals support her and they make it sound even better. Then the bridge comes in with a sinister grasp and Kelly’s voice is drowned underneath it. This is my favourite Kelly song ever and it’s the best on the album. Can We Go Back closes the album with a bang. The guitars are violent and carry a heavy sound while Kelly sings aggressively to it. The chorus elevates into heavy rock and she makes it all about her vocals, “can we go back to the way we used to be?/back to the butterflies/staring deep in your eyes?” The electric guitar in the bridge is sick and she still manages to leave me speechless with her voice. Her voice never falters and she throws out crazy belts. It’s fantastic that she ends the album in wild way and with the biggest rock song no less.
Conclusion: All I Ever Wanted may have struck a wrong note with me at first but after getting over my initial disappointment I ended up loving it. What it lacks compared to My December it makes up for it in other ways. It’s the most fun album she has and she sounds so happy. Of course, it has its fair share of depressing tunes but Kelly has never sounded so playful and wild. The album’s variety is another strong point and it doesn’t end up sounding all over the place. Everything is well placed and constructed. You’re never bored because she constantly switches it up and offers surprise after surprise. She plays with genres like dance and R&B, showing once again how versatile she is. It’s her fourth album but she’s still trying new things and constantly nails them. All I Ever Wanted is as pop as you can get but that’s not a bad thing when it sounds this good.
Recommended Tracks: The Day We Fell Apart, Already Gone, If I Can’t Have You, Tip Of My Tongue, All I Ever Wanted, Impossible, If No One Will Listen, Whyyawannabringmedown and Can We Go Back
Tags: Kelly Clarkson, My December, Review
- Never Again
- One Minute
- Don’t Waste Your Time
- Be Still
- How I Feel
- Can I Have A Kiss
- Dirty Little Secret
- Not Today
After the success of Breakaway and while on tour, Kelly Clarkson fell into what she has said to be the lowest point in her life. As a result, she began to write new material for her third album, My December, which she said was therapeutic for her. She penned all the songs, making this her most personal and involved album. She started getting personal on her sophomore record but not to this extent. The album is a reflection of all the lows that she experienced so it’s extremely dark. The angst, anger, bitterness and rock sound that laced Breakaway are amplified. She sought out to prove her artistry and take control of her music even if it meant losing sales. Sadly, her record label wasn’t on the same page. Rumours surfaced claiming that the label wanted to make significant alterations or delete the entire project and she later confirmed they were true. They believed the album was too dark and negative which would prevent it from reaching the success of her previous album. Despite all the negativity surrounding the album, she stuck to her beliefs and refused to make any changes
There’s no other song that could have opened the album like Never Again does. It takes all the sounds that Kelly was experimenting with on Breakaway and makes them harder, louder and darker. “I hope the ring you gave to her turns her finger green/I hope when you’re in bed with her, you think of me,” she sings coldly and this sets the tone for this vengeful rock anthem. The guitar riff that aids her is melodic and phenomenal. There are a few spurts from another guitar that creates a slight tension. It’s clever how the instrumental becomes more aggressive as her voice crescendos to angrier tones. When she increases her vocals strength in the pre-chorus, the percussion kicks in and adds a new layer to the track. The rock instruments explode in the chorus while Kelly displays just how cruel she can be, “does it hurt to know I’ll never be there?/bet it sucks, to see my face everywhere/it was you, who chose to end it like you did.” I love the angst atmosphere from her sophomore record but this takes it up a notch and it’s much edgier. In the bridge, things die down briefly for a short drum section but shortly after the guitars start breaking through as she belts “never again will I kiss you/never again will I want to/never again will I love you.” The vocals and melody are so full of energy and excitement, making this one of my all-time favourite Kelly songs. One Minute is introduced by spastic guitars and drums. It has the most interesting rock composition due to its hectic nature which actually ends up being extremely fun. It’s not dark like the previous song because there’s a light vibe to the melody but it’s still very much hard rock with depressing lyrics. Her high backing vocals are infectious and I love how they bounce around the melody. “One minute you laugh/the next minute you’re slowly sinking into something black/I get the feeling that lately nothing ever really lasts,” she exclaims as a rush of beats take over in the chorus. The energy is relentless and the constant grazing of the guitar just locks you in a barrage of infectious sounds. Kelly fills the bridge with her soft vocalizing before the final chorus takes over. This took a while to sink in but once it did I was hooked.
Hole is another hit and boasts the most intense rock performance on the album. At first, a gritty and somewhat typical guitar riff starts it off but then a drumline comes with a groovy guitar riff. The instrumental packs a huge punch and it’s so delicious. The verses have Kelly singing in a calm manner, “tired/of everything around me I smile/but I don’t feel a thing/no,” which contrast the busy beat but she starts to add the intensity to her voice during the pre-chorus and fully integrates it in the chorus. Everything sounds louder and stronger in the chorus as her pain-ridden vocals take over and blend with the amazing guitars, “there’s a hole/inside of me/it’s so cold/slowly killing me.” The bridge is my favourite part and she tones down the vocals at the start but once the main guitars come back she screams “something’s gone/I can feel it/it’s all wrong/I’m so sick of this.” This track is so infectious and there are so many great things about it. The aggression, the attitude and the power that comes pouring out of it is incredible. Sober is a gorgeous ballad, an album highlight for sure. Consisting of an acoustic-based guitar melody, it’s simplicity at its finest. Her vocal delivery is raw, full of emotion, and it’s one of her best songs to date, “and I don’t know/I could crash and burn but maybe/at the end of this road I might catch a glimpse of me.” Her soft voice is wonderful. The pain lying beneath her words seeps out and brings a haunting air to the melody. It’s simple but so magical, especially in the chorus when it opens up and becomes just a bit more emotional, “three months and I’m still sober/picked all my weeds but kept the flowers/but I know it’s never really over.” The song hits its climax during the bridge in a big way and it’s breathtaking. Her voice heightens into a delicious high register as she cries “wake up” and it leads to a sequence of choruses that get a rockier arrangement. Her cry continues to echo in the background and her vocals get stronger with each chorus she performs. After this massive build-up, an electric guitar riff comes in mimicking the melody and Kelly finishes with her soft last words. It’s a beauty from start to end and it’s sad that it wasn’t well received because it was one of the best songs released that year.
Whoever said the album didn’t have any catchy hooks obviously didn’t listen to Don’t Waste Your Time, one of the poppiest songs on the album. Still carrying intense rock elements and mournful lyrics, it switches the angst atmosphere for a slightly bright and carefree one. I was surprised when I heard it because the label made such a big deal about the album lacking radio-friendly tracks but then this comes along providing a hook that’s just as catchy as anything on Breakaway. “Don’t waste your time trying to fix/what I want to erase/what I need to forget/don’t waste your time on me my friend/friend, what does that even mean,” she sings in the boisterous pop rock chorus. There’s more focus on the drums in the bridge and I really like that because it goes well with her strong vocals. This song is certainly infectious and the arrangement is so fun, a must-listen. The song that I was anticipating the most by title alone was Judas. It’s a title that is hardly used so I was ecstatic to see how it would turn out. As expected, it’s chock-full of biblical references and she immediately begins by singing “the only one who took you in/the only one who held your hand/defended you against the others,” backed up by a light drumline. It doesn’t take long for it to expand into a rock medley with stronger vocals. The chorus packs a massive punch as the guitars blast to her screaming vocals, “I didn’t know, I didn’t know/I couldn’t see, I couldn’t see/never thought you’d forget me.” The atmosphere is tense and infused with her anger. It’s energetic and so catchy. The belting at the end is an excellent addition and Kelly really gets her message across.
She shifts to the darkest moment on the album with Haunted, a song about the suicide of a friend. A screechy and horrific guitar riff starts it off but then clock-like guitar plucking and percussion takes over. Her singing is relaxed; however, the dreary tone that she employs reflects the dark atmosphere, “now you’re gone/and I’m still crying/shocked, broken/I’m dying inside.” Her backing vocals sneak in and lead to the chorus where she laments, “where are you?/I need you/don’t leave me here on my own.” Similarly to the other songs, the chorus features a heavy guitar riff and it’s not as engaging but I like how tormented she sounds. The second verse has a fuller arrangement and she’s livelier, getting angrier as it goes on. Kelly throws in a great belt during the bridge and the end overlaps the chorus under the post-chorus. For the finale, the screechy guitars return and she repeats “you were smiling” which is the most unsettling line in the whole song. It’s so creepy and you’re left with this horrible feeling. Kelly strips everything away once again for the second ballad, Be Still. It’s a touching ballad with beautiful lyrics, “foolish one with the smile/you don’t have to be brave/I’ll gladly climb your walls/if you’ll meet me halfway,” and a delectable melody. A relaxing acoustic arrangement flows throughout and guides you on a gorgeous listening experience. The instrumental never tries to be big. It stays as peaceful as possible and it’s a breath of fresh air from the angst songs that are thrown at you. Her voice is like silk. The sultry tones that she uses are jaw-dropping and she delivers a very controlled performance. There are no belts or powerful moments. It’s smooth to the end with the vocals, elegant guitar, piano and strings.
The ballads continue with Maybe and it’s also a stunner. The acoustics aren’t as airy as the last ballad and Kelly’s singing, while calm, is stronger. I love the lyrics, they’re about acceptance and admitting your faults, “I’m strong/but I break/I’m stubborn/and I make plenty of mistakes.” The song comes to life after the second chorus due to the drum beats and her delivery changes to an intense style. She puts so much passion and beauty into her vocals, “yeah I’m gonna try to give you every little part of me/every single detail you missed with your eyes.” There are occasional blasts of synths and everything eventually dies down to a piano which is the first time you hear one so clearly on the album. Her soulful voice takes over and the rest of the instruments come back but the acoustic guitar is changed to an electric one. There are so many changes to the vocals, instruments and structure. There’s a lot of detail put into it which elevates its beauty. The second pop-infused song, How I Feel, comes in to wash away the emotional aftertaste of the ballads. This is the most addicting piece and its melody is fire. The guitar has a groovy bounce and she throws away the bitter tones for a fun and feminine vocal approach, “this fire is getting hot again/but I touch the flame ’cause I’m a curious cat.” The way her voice heightens throughout the verses makes them a delight. Her vocals in the chorus are killer and the way she screams out “oh” in a piercing high register is so awesome. I can’t get over how infectious she sounds, “I’m getting tired of believing/even sicker of pretending/that it’s not so bad, just wait it out.” It’s so refreshing to hear this tone and the fist-pumping guitar melody accompanying it is a blast of fun.
Yeah is so different compared to everything else so it really stands out. It’s unique to the album due to the fact that it displays a retro, almost jazz beat. It’s the shortest track and I wish it was a little longer because it’s great. Her vocals are powerful but there’s a flirty, aggressive and confident flavour to them that’s very sexy. The chorus is pure ear candy as she performs with shrilling vocals, “yeah/let me know, let me know.” Her vocals are just insane and the spurts of horns bring it to another level. This brings sex appeal like no other Kelly track and the bridge dives deeper into it as she whispers to a seductive percussion sequence. I wasn’t expecting this type of song so it’s a wonderful surprise and I adore the jazz influence. Once again, the album goes in a new direction and this time it’s for the adorable Can I Have A Kiss. It’s not a total shift in the instrumental department because it’s composed of an acoustic guitar but it’s a nice change of pace lyrically, “excuse me for this/I just want a kiss/I just want to know what it feels like to touch/something so pure.” The melody picks up in the pre-chorus and it’s the cutest moment on the album. The lyrics have a feel-good nature to them and they just put a smile on your face, “don’t move/it’s only a breath or two between our lips.” It becomes brighter in the chorus and features a fast-paced delivery. There are synths laced underneath and they’re not dominant but they add a nice flair to the instrumental. This is such a bubbly tune that has just the right amount of sugar. It’s a breath of life for the album as it’s the only uplifting song.
Irvine is a beautiful and haunting prayer that she wrote after her Irvine show. Kelly has stated that it was the lowest point of her life and this song is what came out of it. “Are you there?/are you watching me?/as I lie here on this floor/they say you feel what I do,” she coos, joined by a somber acoustic guitar. There isn’t much of a structure in terms of verses and choruses because each stanza is different. Her voice is masked behind by what sounds like a vintage microphone and it gives it a transcendent feel. There are a lot of emotions running through and it’s certainly the most creative song she’s ever done. The haunting instrumental is perfectly tuned to her melancholic vocals. It’s depressing because you feel her helplessness, “why is it so hard?/why can’t you just take me?/I don’t have much to go /before I fade completely,” and it ends up being a lullaby of sadness. Hidden on this track is the country-like Chivas. Again, it sounds like a vintage microphone was used during the recording but it sounds much more retro. The crackling brings out the old school sound even more and her soulful voice is a great companion to the instrumentation, “guess I fell too fast/guess I learned my lesson/so much for true love/I’ll take this chivas instead.” There’s no change to the melody whatsoever but it works just like it did in the previous song. This is another unique track and it’s definitely a nice bonus.
Dirty Little Secret is the first of the iTunes bonuses and I didn’t get a chance to hear any of them until years after the album came out. It doesn’t share the lyrical themes as the others but it does share the pop rock sound. The instrumental isn’t totally dark. It’s more on the gritty and dirty side. She displays her high register frequently in the chorus which is the highlight. The flirty vibe to her voice is delicious and catchy, “oh (don’t wait too long)/I see it now/I know your dirty little secret.” The gritty nature of the guitars brings something new to the album and it all comes together in a very sexy way. Not Today opens with an optimistic guitar and drum beat. It’s not the greatest and there’s something off about it but it’s a decent listen. The chorus is the best part because the guitars blast life into it and she sings with much more passion, “is anybody this weird/will someone ever get my twisted thoughts/my ways/I guess not today.” It has a really great beat to it that makes it mildly infectious so that’s a plus. I like how the instrumentation starts to get faster right before the end and then settles right back into its main melody. Fading, the Japanese bonus, suffers from the same issue. These last two tracks seem to be lacking the polish that the rest of the album has and it makes them sound like demos. Regardless, there are some very catchy moments. In the verses, her fast-paced singing is great and the pre-chorus, when the guitar hardens, is a delight as her voice is filled with angst, “amongst these faceless others/underneath the surface/everything’s so backwards/it’s all a lie.” The chorus is as energetic and her vocals drift along to the barrage of beats. In the end, I don’t necessarily dislike it but compared to the other songs, it’s not as great.
Conclusion: My December blew me away completely. I loved her sophomore effort but this is so much more amazing. The dark themes that she started to get into are expanded into angrier, feistier and more emotional material. Her record label is clearly clueless if they couldn’t see the brilliance of this album. Everything is catchier, stronger, more beautiful and just overall better than anything on Breakaway. This is my favourite album from Kelly and I don’t know if she’ll ever top it. It’s her most personal and involved album which shows in every single song. This album has it all from rock anthems to dreamy ballads to infectious pop hits and to soul-infused retro songs. Her voice is at its finest and she’s never sounded better. My Decemeber is a masterpiece and like most it has gone unnoticed and unappreciated.
Recommended Tracks: Never Again, Sober, Judas, Hole, Maybe, Yeah, Don’t Waste Your Time, How I Feel and Irvine
Tags: Breakaway, Kelly Clarkson, Review
- Since U Been Gone
- Behind These Hazel Eyes
- Because Of You
- Where Is Your Heart
- Walk Away
- You Found Me
- I Hate Myself For Losing You
- Hear Me
- Beautiful Disaster (Live)
Thankful found Kelly Clarkson etched in a typical genre that many Idol’s find themselves in. Despite being a good, it was a very predictable route for her to go in. With her second album, Breakaway, she literally breaks free from the tired pop formula and discovers her defining genre. The soulful roots of her previous effort return and they’re infused with a rock sound that suits her voice wonderfully. The music has much more of an impact and her voice is far more impressive. I didn’t think she would ever go this hard into pop rock but she excels at it. It has become her staple genre and Breakaway showcases the beginning of her dive into it. This is her most successful album and the most successful by an Idol to date.
I’ve never cared for the title track, Breakaway, but I’ve warmed up to it over the years. Kelly opens this bright number with some nice vocalizing and she’s joined by a serene acoustic guitar. Her voice is crisp and soft but still very strong. The instrumental gives off a sense of freedom, or a sense of obtaining freedom, which is something she has done with this album. “I’ll spread my wings and I’ll learn how to fly/I’ll do what it takes ’til I touch the sky/and I’ll make a wish/take a chance/make a change/and breakaway,” she proclaims in the chorus while the guitar crescendos to an even more optimistic melody. The cheery sound really sticks to you and the inclusion of strings in the bridge gives it some edge with its dramatic flair. I like this much more than I used to and her vocals are fantastic during the last chorus. It’s stronger than her old material and gives a sneak peak of what is to come. Since U Been Gone is her iconic song. I don’t think I could find someone who hasn’t heard it. It is one of the best break-up songs of the decade and the one that got me into her music. “Here’s the thing we started out friends/it was cool but it was all pretend,” she begins with a steady bass and guitar beat. It’s a bit quiet until she vents in the chorus, “but since u been gone/I can breathe for the first time/I’m so moving on/yeah, yeah.” The hook is catchy, edgy and the rock elements bring it to a higher level. My favourite part is the bridge where she employs a higher tone to bash the ex-boyfriend and reaches the climax with a piercing belt, “shut your mouth I just can’t take it/again and again and again and again.” This leads to a short but delicious gritty guitar riff before moving to the final chorus which is filled with amazing ad-libs and backing vocals. The song is incredible and it’s no surprise that it’s praised by many to be one of her best.
The previous song may have begun my love for Kelly but Behind These Hazel Eyes cemented it. This song is dark, emotional and it features a heavy composition. Immediately, angry guitars and vocalizing comes in, leading to the beautiful verse which consists of a lovely, light guitar and drum melody, “seems like just yesterday/you were a part of me/I used to stand so tall/I used to be so strong.” The melody picks up during the pre-chorus and becomes full-fledged pop rock during the chorus. Kelly delivers a tragic and hateful vocal performance, “here I am, once again/I’m torn into pieces/can’t deny it, can’t pretend/just thought you were the one.” I love how her vocals express pain and rage all at once and her screaming backing vocals are a superb touch. The highlight and the peak of the song is the bridge. I’ve always loved it since the first time I heard it. The melody morphs into a spiral of hard and dark instruments while Kelly provides my favourite vocal moment. The belt that she hits is stunning and I love how the music fades away to accent it, “seeing you it kills me now/no, I don’t cry on the outside/anymore.” It’s an epic moment and the final chorus is made better with strong ad-libs and vocal runs. I’m a fan because of this song and I can never get tired of it. Next up is the first ballad, Because Of You, and she wrote it when she was younger to deal with her parents’ divorce so it’s the most personal song in her musical repertoire. Even if you haven’t experienced the subject the song deals with it’s still easy to relate to. She sings to a haunting piano and it sends chills down your spine. Her performance is raw and she lays all of her emotions out on display. Her delicate timbre carries the song well and the chorus is filled to the brink with her despair, “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.” The added percussion beats and strings drive the emotion further to the forefront. In the bridge, the strings are much more prominent and her backing vocals are to die for. There’s a second set of vocals supporting her main vocals and the two come together beautifully, “you never thought of anyone else/you just saw your pain/and now I cry in the middle of the night/for the same damn thing.” I love the stripped chorus and how it returns back to its original form but is enhanced by her powerful vocals.
Gone follows in the footsteps of the first few songs but its rock elements are more in-your-face. The guitar bounces in the verses and Kelly mimics it with her voice, giving it a dramatic snap. The chorus is a lot more fluid as the bounce is done away with and her sassy tone is exquisite, “if you think you can walk right through my door/that is just so you/coming back when I’ve finally moved on/I’m already gone.” It sounds so good and it’s very catchy. The rock influence isn’t angry or depressing so it’s refreshing and ends up being one of the lighter moments on the album. It’s great to see her classic belting make a return at the end and it’s a great way to finish. The most impressive song and one of my all-time favourites is the dark and sensational ballad, Addicted. Despite being extremely dark, the song is sex to the ears due to her alluring vocals which carry a deadly air. The piano melody is simple but effective and displays the emotional anguish that Kelly is in. I love how descriptive the lyrics are because it makes for a strong visual experience, “it’s like you’re a leech/sucking the life from me/it’s like I can’t breathe/without you inside of me.” It’s beautiful and grotesque at the same time, a great display for the addiction of love. The song progressively gets more intricate and louder as it approaches the chorus. It’s in the chorus that it shifts to a power ballad and Kelly’s vocals are so strong and mesmerizing as she expresses her conflicting situation, “it’s like I can’t breathe/it’s like I can’t see anything/nothing but you/I’m addicted to you.” The layering of her backing vocals, both high and low, is stunning and adds so much to the chorus. A dramatic set of strings appears in the bridge as she sings in an infectious fast pace with haunting backing vocals supporting her. The tempo changes halfway in and becomes even more aggressive as two angry sets of her vocals come in. This is a masterpiece and the best track on the album.
I’ve never been a fan of Where Is Your Heart and I thought it was total filler. Now, labeling it a filler track is too harsh because it’s actually not that bad. A lighthearted string and piano melody starts it off and her voice takes on a sad but sweet tone. It’s nice to see her move away from the depressing and angry tones that have so far dominated the album and that’s one of the reasons I like it more than I used to. A drum beat makes an appearance in the chorus and the strings take on a more important role than they do in the verses. Her subdued vocal approach in the first half is lovely and in the second half of the song the chorus gets an edgy guitar riff. Though not outstanding, it’s an enjoyable song with great vocals. Walk Away is the sassiest Kelly has ever been and it’s such a fun track. Like the last song, it also departs from the album’s usual themes but it’s much better. It’s catchy, full of attitude and she plays with her vocals a lot. In the verses, where she’s backed up by hard guitar and drum beats, she sings with attitude and she sounds quite sexy, “so before you point your finger/get your hands off of my trigger.” The chorus is a funky mess of screeching guitars and strong vocals, “I’m looking for attention/not another question/should you stay or should you go?/well, if you don’t have the answer/why are you still standing here?” It’s irresistibly groovy and the bridge takes it up another notch as she delivers one hell of a sassy fit, “I wanna man by my side/not a boy who runs and hides/are you gonna fight for me?/die for me?/live and breathe for me?/do you care for me?/‘cause if you don’t then just leave.” I’m always left in awe because of how amazing she sounds. It’s a great song and it’s powerful but the fact that it’s so fun makes it better.
You Found Me is adorable and it’s the only positive song about love. Surprisingly, the music isn’t happy or bright. Instead, it maintains the brooding sound of the other songs. The guitar is laced with moody beats and she sings in a very relaxed manner. You would expect an uplifting performance for a song like this but she still has a lingering sadness in her voice. I actually love that and a brighter sound does arise in the chorus so you do get a happy Kelly, “the ups and the downs/and you still didn’t leave/I guess that you saw what nobody could see/you found me.” It’s refreshing to finally have a hopeful track since the opening. The album’s first and only mishap is I Hate Myself For Losing You. This is average compared to the rest of the album and it’s because of the faulty production. Kelly sings well but she sings to a bland beat which makes for a mediocre listen. The pop rock elements are very unoriginal and nothing exciting happens. The beat is monotonous throughout and despite an increase in tempo in the chorus it still manages to be uninteresting. I like her vocals in the bridge because of how powerful they are and it’s the liveliest part of the track. On the other hand, Hear Me is amazing. Her fragile voice enters, joined by a melancholic piano that sets the mood for the entire track. The instrumental is so captivating and it emphasizes her soulful voice. I love how the verses are calm and soothing whereas the chorus is intense due to the blast of guitars and belting, “hear me/I’m cryin’ out/I’m ready now/turn my world upside down.” It’s her strongest delivery and the energy that’s infused in the chorus is infectious. I love her angry vocals and this song is filled with them, especially in the final chorus where she goes all-out. The album ends with Beautiful Disaster (Live) and this was the first time I actually heard this track. I prefer this to the studio version because it’s more emotional. The uplifting guitars are replaced by a solemn piano and it adds a new flavour to the song. The melody is steady throughout and it carries a sad feel. It sounds great as a piano-driven ballad and she sings it much better live.
Conclusion: Breakaway is a huge departure from Kelly’s debut. While she explored pop rock for a few songs, this album focuses solely on the genre and as a result is much more cohesive. Pop rock and Kelly go hand in hand and her voice sounds richer than it did before. Many of the songs no longer have the belts that she did in her debut because she doesn’t need to do them anymore. She’s already proven what a tremendous vocalist she is. Here, the focus is showcasing her voice in a new way. The soulful twang to her voice was overused and now she explores soft, elegant and sassy tones that she never fully utilized before. She doesn’t sound like a typical pop artist anymore. She’s matured as a singer and this album shows that.
Recommended Tracks: Addicted, Behind These Hazel Eyes, Since U Been Gone, Hear Me, Because Of You, Gone and Walk Away
Tags: Kelly Clarkson, Review, Tamyra Gray, Thankful
- The Trouble With Love Is
- Miss Independent
- Some Kind Of Miracle
- What’s Up Lonely
- Just Missed The Train
- Beautiful Disaster
- You Thought Wrong (feat. Tamyra Gray)
- A Moment Like This (New Mix)
- Before Your Love (New Mix)
- (You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman
American Idol is responsible for bringing a few amazing artists out into the music landscape and its first winner, Kelly Clarkson, is by far the best singer they’ve discovered. I was a casual fan of this pop idol and only started to love her when she released her second album. I’ve been a fan since then but it wasn’t until this year that I finally listened to her debut album, Thankful. I was familiar with a few songs but I was surprised by how soulful the album turned out to be. I shouldn’t have been surprised though, seeing as her Idol performances were quite soulful themselves. Honestly, I expected it to be lackluster because I never hear many fans talking about this album but it’s actually quite a strong pop record.
The Trouble With Love Is opens the album with a blues and soul sound. Joined by a calm, classic piano and drum melody, Kelly lets her vocals do the work and shows exactly why she won American Idol. I enjoy the soothing composition and the strength that comes with the vocals. The song’s structure is quite interesting as the verses deal with the positive aspects of love, “love can be a many splendored thing/can’t deny the joy it brings/a dozen roses, diamond rings,” while the chorus focuses on the negatives that come with love, “the trouble with love is/it can tear you up inside/make your heart believe a lie/it’s stronger than your pride.” The song maintains the same tempo and melody but it does throw in a choir and some strings so it’s not so plain. Her vocals are fantastic and are the main reason to listen to this track. Miss Independent is her first hit song and I fell for it the moment I heard it. It’s pure pop and it was actually written for Christina Aguilera’s album, Stripped, so you know it’s going to be good. A funky guitar riff leads the verses and Kelly adds some attitude to her vocals. It starts on the quiet side until it explodes into the chorus where she belts, “what is this feeling taking over?/thinking no one could open the door/surprise, it’s time to feel what’s real.” The guitar riff becomes harder and Kelly just owns it vocally. The hook is full of power, emotion and addicting energy. The bridge is fantastic as are the gorgeous backing vocals and strings that join Kelly’s soft vocals before returning to the chorus. This is, without a doubt, the best song on the album.
Kelly goes acoustic for Low, the other track that I was fond of when the album first came out. The acoustic guitar sits nicely next to her gorgeous voice and the two flow really well in the verses. It’s very chill until it gets to the chorus because the acoustics crescendo and Kelly sings in a stronger manner, “have you ever been low?/have you ever had a friend that let you down so?/when the truth came out/were you the last to know?” Despite only being centered on an acoustic guitar and percussion beats, I really love the flow of the song and it’s so catchy. The moment of vulnerability after the bridge, where the song slows down, is beautiful. There are three cover songs on the album and Some Kind Of Miracle is the first one. I don’t care all that much for it because it’s a bit boring. The verses are plain and end up dragging on because the instrumental is too tame. I have no issues with her vocals because she sounds good. It’s just the arrangement that brings this song down. There’s nothing remotely interesting about it but thankfully the chorus is slightly better. The backing vocals are a nice touch and Kelly’s powerful singing brings life to the song. However, it’s not enough to save the song and it ends up coming off as filler material. What’s Up Lonely is an improvement but not by much. The song is composed of typical percussion and guitars for the verses and like the last track, feels like a drag. The chorus maintains the same mid-tempo beat but at least it’s catchy, “what’s up lonely/seems your my only friend who wants to share my pain/tell me heartache/what’s it gonna take/for you to leave me alone today.” The best part of the song is the “gotta go, gotta move on” sections because her voice is flawless during them and they’re so addicting. Not bad but not great.
After these few lackluster tracks, the album goes back in the right direction with Just Missed The Train. This is the second cover and it’s the best of the three. An acoustic guitar leads the verses and they go through a tempo change right before the chorus as the backing vocals kick in. An electric guitar replaces the acoustic one and is joined by a set of drums for a stunning melody. Kelly employs a delicious airy vocal style that’s absolutely beautiful and works with the melody perfectly, “so go on/and sleep darling/why don’t you pretend we were just a dream.” She puts more strength into her voice for the bridge and does some nice vocal runs in the final chorus. The change in tempo at the end is surprising and fantastic. This is one of the highlights and definitely makes the album worth checking out. Beautiful Disaster is an adorable mid-tempo led by sweet guitars, drums and her light and fluffy voice. “He drowns in his dreams/an exquisite extreme I know/he’s as damned as he seems/and more heaven than a heart could hold,” she sings in the verse which is dominated by a feel-good melody thanks to the sweet instruments. It gets even more vibrant in the chorus because everything is heightened and Kelly sounds so beautiful. Her calm singing makes for a lovely listen and really lets you sink into the song. It’s super cute and addicting. You Thought Wrong (feat. Tamyra Gray) stands out for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s the only feature on the album and Tamyra Gray, a fellow Idol contestant, has a great voice that blends well with Kelly’s. Secondly, this is the first and last track to utilize a dark sound. It opens with the two of them vocalizing which establishes a tense atmosphere. The melody in the verses is exquisite and their voices blend perfectly with the guitar licks. They both employ a deep tone and in the chorus the melody becomes aggressive due to heavier guitar riff and the anger that the two singers add to their vocals, “you thought we didn’t know/you thought we were in the dark/but boy your covers blown/‘cause we both know now.” It ends up being a very heated song as they carry on their angry vocals into the second verse. The end is an all-out belting spree and they sound amazing. I didn’t expect a song like this so it’s certainly a nice treat and it makes the album better.
Thankful comes next and brings the album down because of how vapid it sounds. The guitar has a soulful charge to it but it just sounds boring. Even though the chorus is livelier due to the percussion, it still ends up feeling tame, “so I’m thankful for the blessing/and the lessons that I’ve learned with you/by my side.” I just can’t seem to get into this track and there’s nothing remotely interesting about it. It’s total filler and does nothing for the album. After this mishap is the stunning Anytime and I was so impressed when I heard it. It’s reminiscent of the opening track because it’s soulful but it’s ten times better. The arrangement carries a magnificent and grand air that is furthered by Kelly’s intense vocals. The verses are elegant, the piano that leads them is gorgeous and she delivers with strong, clear vocals. She sounds amazing, especially during the chorus where she power sings with a choir backing her up, “anytime you need love baby I’m on your side (hey)/just let me be the one I can make it alright (I can make it alright)/anytime you need love baby you’re in my heart/I can make it alright.” From the bridge on, Kelly engages in some deep, powerful belts that are absolutely incredible. This is her best vocal performance on the entire album and I can’t get over how good she sounds. I’m so glad I discovered this song because it’s a favourite of mine now.
A Moment Like This (New Mix) is what Kelly sang when she won American Idol so it’s very uplifting. The duo guitar melody gives it a fresh feel and her vocals are super sweet. It’s a feel-good track and the chorus is simply beautiful, “some people search forever/for that one special kiss/oh, I can’t believe it’s happening to me/some people wait a lifetime/for a moment like this.” The second chorus is even brighter with the louder instrumental which spills into the chorus. She is joined by a choir during the final segment and it’s so epic because it has a sense of great accomplishment and her belting is awesome. Before Your Love (New Mix) is another song that she sang on the show. This mid-tempo utilizes a piano and guitar that crescendo in the chorus along with her voice. The verses are calm and nice but they don’t have the same impact as the chorus. It really comes to life during the chorus because Kelly lets her voice take over and shine, “I’d never lived/before your love/I’d never felt/before your touch.” It’s a typical love song but it’s good so I can’t complain. The backing choir at the end is a good addition and I love her belting. This track is all about her voice and she takes it to some crazy places. It makes for a great closing track because it demonstrates her vocal ability. The Japanese release comes with (You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman, the final cover and one of the songs she performed on Idol. Her deep vocals are soulful, full of emotion and incredible. She does the song justice and she has the voice to make it work. During the chorus, her voice dips into a growl-like tone that is addicting and the bridge has her belting out amazing high notes. I wish she added the whistle note that she hit during the live performance because it would have made the studio version even better.
Conclusion: I knew coming into the album that it was going to be the weakest release from Kelly but I didn’t expect to like most of the album. Obviously, it has a few filler tracks and some are really uninspired but the songs that are good are very good. There aren’t any issues with her vocals because she’s an amazing singer. The production is the only aspect that stumbles in a few places. Kelly is definitely one of the best vocalists in pop music right now and this album does a fantastic job of showcasing that. It’s a good pop debut and I’m really glad I checked it out because it’s added a few new songs to my list of favourite Kelly tracks.
Recommended Tracks: Miss Independent, Just Missed The Train, Anytime, A Moment Like This (New Mix), You Thought Wrong (feat. Tamyra Gray) and Low