There will forever be an eye on Kelly Clarkson’s career. She will always generate some level of interest in mainstream media because many of us so her become the first winner on American Idol.
That title alone set a her a place in pop music history, but that wasn’t going to be enough for Clarkson. With combined album sales, Clarkson has gone platinum 11 times thus far in her career (with her second album Breakaway selling at six million copies).
Her catalog since 2002 is riddled with gold and platinum singles such as “Since You Been Gone,” “Behind These Hazel Eyes,” and “Stronger,” to name a few. Now with her seventh studio album “Piece by Piece,” we see Clarkson as a mother and now a successful veteran in the music game.
It’s a safe single with a switch of tempo at the chorus which Clarkson handles perfectly. What separates Clarkson from others in the pop-music genre is that she can sing perfectly without much studio help.
This isn’t a knock on other pop artist – the genre is set up by image and production more than song content to be honest – it’s just when one hears a commercial song like “Heartbeat Song” and they hear a voice like Clarkson’s go at places you wouldn’t expect – it’s a welcomed surprise to an otherwise predictable genre.
“Someone” works on the premise of Clarkson after a breakup and although the man is clearly not the one for her, she knows he deserves love in his life.
The lyrics are written by Matthew Koma, who paints a perfect picture of two people just not on the same page in a relationship : “You had your red flags up and raised / More traffic than East L.A. / But I drove in anyway / My common sense on holiday. . .” Koma’s song-writing does not make another appearance during the album which leads to one of this albums downfalls.
Clarkson herself is apparently only credited for co-writing two songs on the album (which will enter this discussion later) and it seems producer Greg Kurstin has his hands in just about everything on this release.
A song like “Take You There” has a lot going on in and then breaks off into a dub-step-like hook, which makes no sense with a vocalist like Clarkson at hand. “I Had A Dream” is a song which seemingly promotes lazy lyricism “If you wanna lead, be a leader / If you wanna dream be a dreamer” and later in the second verse “If you wanna preach, be a preacher / If you wanna teach, be a teacher.”
When you have as successful a resume as Clarkson, there should be no cutting around the edges when it comes to song-writing.
“War Paint” is about the tenth song in the last year that uses the saturated metaphors that connect a relationship with warfare. Meanwhile, the production on “Dance With Me” sounds like a throw away David Bowie track and “Nostalgic” sounds like a song that was played in the club Tony Montana hung out at in the movie Scarface.
There is a also a duet with John Legend (who is seemingly every where lately, even when you don’t want him around) that is just boring and between the pianos and opening melody sounds like “Imaginary” by Evanescence.
Through it all though – Kelly Clarkson – God bless her soul – vocally is magnificent.
The title track, “Piece by Piece” which she co-wrote is her story about her relationship with her father who skipped out on her when she was very young. The song is intelligently written and genuine down to the bone: “And all of your words fall flat / I made something of myself and now you wanna come back/ But your love isn’t free, it has to be earned / Back then I didn’t have anything you needed, so I was worthless.” She caps off the song by telling her father that she will not do the same to her daughter and neither will her husband: “She will never have to wonder her worth / Because unlike you I’m gonna put her first / He’ll never walk away / He’ll never break her heart / He’ll take care of things. . .he’ll love her.”
Clarkson also puts her pen to the pad on the track “Tightrope” which is a story about a relationship that looks to be on the brink of ending, but she doesn’t understand how it got to this point with her still being enamored with her lover: “And I ain’t seen nothing like you / the way you light up every room tonight / so easily / And I have moved mountains, babe / Just a stumble and too long a grace / And I, I can’t compete.”
It’s really a wonder why she didn’t write more on this album.
For those that are familiar with Clarkson it’s no surprise that this girl has soul. Like real soul. She’s been locked in this pop and sometimes pop-rock bubble, when in reality, she can sing anything. “Bad Reputation” has an Alicia Keys kind of feel to it, equipped with horns and an uptempo attitude – Clarkson plays the role of a girl falling in love but is scared of losing her “reputation” as one who doesn’t care for relationships or gets her heart caught up in things.
The confidence which she displays vocally throughout this album comes out most during “Bad Reputation.”
The takeaway from “Piece By Piece” is that Clarkson needs a different team around her. She’s around people who are talented, yeah sure – but they are not making the best decisions while working with one of the better voices out there.
Clarkson needs to trust her writing skills more and work with song writers like Ne-Yo and branch off on the production route. Surely there’s a huge budget for a Kelly Clarkson project so money shouldn’t be an issue.
Rating : 5.5 out of 10