Kelly Clarkson's current hit single "Mr. Know It All" is certainly a low key way to kick off an album. However, the entire message of the song is that she is in charge of herself, and that can be easily extended to the artistic control she has claimed. The constant feel of Stronger is that this indeed is an artist who has grown stronger and stronger delivering her most consistent and cohesive album yet. Kelly Clarkson not only remains the top pop singer discovered in 10 years of American Idol, but also one of the top female vocalists in the music business period.
Kelly Clarkson's Middle Ground
Two albums ago Kelly Clarkson delivered the intensely personal and powerful album My December much to the chagrin of record label profit counters. Two years ago she swung the pendulum back to ultra-poppy territory on All I Ever Wanted and proved she can own the pop market when she wants to. On Stronger Kelly Clarkson has found her comfortable middle ground between the two, and this feels like the view into the true artist. Song after song she doesn't blow you away at first, but listen to them 3, 4 or 5 times and nearly every single track pulls you in making it likely this album will become a staple of your personal playlist through the upcoming long winter.
A song like "Dark Side" is animated by a hooky chorus, but listen just a bit closer to the words and you will feel the vulnerability and trepidation in the lyrics. It is difficult to make pop music both highly personal and catchy. Kelly Clarkson succeeds in that task frequently here. "Mr. Know It All" reveals more and more depth when hearing it multiple times. At first blush, it is about personal relationships, but, particularly after viewing the accompanying music video, it works as a metaphor for Kelly Clarkson's overall professional career.
Moment After Moment Of Stunning Vocals
Kelly Clarkson is a singer of stunning depth and power. However, she rarely feels the need to impress with bombast. Instead, she fearlessly heads into moments when her voice is laid bare with only minimal production and orchestration. On much of "Standing In Front Of You" she is accompanied by little more than a percussive beat and very muted orchestration. Her singing is stunningly beautiful and mesmerizing wrapping the listener in warmth. Kelly Clarkson also clearly knows how to deliver an upbeat vocal. Listen to how self-assured she sounds on "You Can't Win." She is comfortable on both an exposed verse and rising above the instrumental power track on the chorus. It is a rarity today to have a mainstream top 40 pop album deserve plaudits for stellar singing, but this is one.
Top Tracks On 'Stronger'
- "Mr. Know It All"
- "What Doesn't Kill You (Stronger)"
- "Standing In Front Of You"
- "I Forgive You"
An Album Well Worth Waiting For
Stronger is one of the most eagerly awaited pop albums of fall 2011, and it does not disappoint. Kelly Clarkson worked here with a team of producers and songwriters including pop veteran Toby Gad, R&B master Darkchild, alternative leaning Greg Kurstin, and rock master Howard Benson. However, the album holds together impressively as a single artistic statement. As with Kelly Clarkson's entire musical catalog, there is plenty of romantic angst here and relationships left in shambles, but in the final analysis it is personal strength, as indicated in the title, that shines through.
The standard edition of Stronger holds 13 tracks, and all of them deserve to be here. The deluxe edition adds four more tracks and includes a gem worth the extra expense. "The Sun Will Rise" does not exactly fit the vibe of the standard album, but it is a beautiful combination of Kelly Clarkson's occasional country leanings with her confident pop-rock swagger. Kudos also to Kara DioGuardi's supporting vocals and Howard Benson's sympathetic production. Stronger is a pop collection to savor.