Kelly Clarkson’s fifth LP, appropriately titled Stronger, reveals a pop star who has become more comfortable in her own skin. Almost a decade after winning American Idol, Clarkson finally creates an album that hits the right balance between commercial potential and artistic integrity.
The opening track is obviously “the hit” of the album. “What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger)” is as close as Clarkson can (and should) get to the dance-y sound that is currently overdone on the radio. It’s a track with a lot of punch, but with a theme that is distinctly Clarkson. “Mr. Know It All”, the lead single that turned into a moderate hit, sounds nice but clearly doesn’t have the x factor that “Stronger” has.
“Dark Side”, another potential single, tackles a very universal theme, and it should become a big Hot AC hit. The first 50 seconds of this track sounds like a lullaby — that is, until the drums become louder in the chorus as Clarkson starts asking “Everybody’s got a dark side, do you love me, can you love mine?”.
“Honestly” is dark and could have easily been a track from Clarkson’s My December. “You Love Me” is catchy and with an opening reminiscent of an 80s track.
A couple of misses
The album is not without some misses. “I Forgive You” is easily the album’s “Since U Been Gone” — but it is a tad overproduced. A weird noise in the beginning of the track will make you want to press the skip button before the song gets to the its catchy chorus.
“Einstein” is the album’s guilty pleasure; it sounds pop-y but suffers from a few lyrical sins. Clarkson isn’t quite 30 yet, but I’m pretty sure that “Dumb plus dump equals you” is beneath her. On the flip side, “Standing In Front of You” is nice — too nice, in fact, that it becomes forgettable.
Clarkson redeems herself with some of the latter tracks. “Hello” is a sure hit, although Katy Perry fans might cry foul over the song’s similarities with “Last Friday Night”. (To Clarkson’s defense, Bonnie McKee had a hand with both tracks, so it’s probably a production issue.) “Let Me Down” carries the angst and the loud production that were both present in Clarkson’s past work. The song was rumoured to be the lead single a few months ago, and that’s not really surprising given its massive chorus.
The country influence is pretty obvious in this album as well. Of course, there’s the Jason Aldean collaboration (“Don’t You Wanna Stay”), but Clarkson also shows her Nashville influences in “Breaking Your Own Heart” and the Kara Dioguardi-assisted track “The Sun Will Rise”. With a few tweaks, even “The War is Over” could easily be a country hit.
Whereas many of her contemporaries have resorted to meat dresses, blue wigs, outrageous outfits, and riding the dance hype, Clarkson keeps it simple in Stronger, opting to use less autotune in many of the tracks and tackling a subject that many of her fans have come to expect from her. Some might say that Clarkson is playing it safe here, but given that she didn’t work with producers that have given her the biggest hits (Dr. Luke, Ryan Tedder, Max Martin), I think the opposite is true.
Stronger is an album from a pop star who no longer feels the need to prove herself. With this album, Clarkson is defiant and stronger than ever.