Released October 2011
When I tell people that one of my favorite singers is Kelly Clarkson, I usually get one of three responses: a) “Oh … Why?” b) “Wait, the girl from American Idol?” or c) “My preteen sister loves her!”
Today, a few weeks after the release of Stronger, Clarkson’s fifth studio album, I’d like to propose a different response to my affection for Kelly: “That bitch is awesome.”
Stronger isn’t Clarkson’s best, and the lead single, “Mr. Know-It-All,” is one of the weakest songs on the disc, but the tracks here continue to showcase what’s great about her. Her powerhouse voice is unmatched, and her massive range allows her to belt ridiculous notes that require you to rewind over and over again. The singer insisted that her producer use minimal, if any, auto-tune on her voice, a decision that the album definitely benefits from. It’s wonderful to hear her belt her heart out and know that she had little technological assistance, after all, she did get famous for singing live. Her vocals are particularly impressive on “What Doesn’t Kill You” and “Honestly,” where she laments the death of a relationship but looks toward better times.
Kelly’s optimistic perspective on break-ups — that they can be empowering, that she’s so moving on (yeah, yeah) — is what sets Stronger apart from other, more depressing break-up albums. That is, while Adele sings on 21 that she’ll do “everything different, be better for you,” Kelly is encouraging herself to get over it, move on, and learn from the negative experience.
In fairness, you’d think that Clarkson would tire of making this sort of break-up album — and that her fan base would tire of listening to it. But no matter how many sad “let’s part ways” or angry “you broke my heart” songs she records — and they’re in no short supply here — they don’t get old. She communicates sorrow and grief, all while looking toward the future, so well that I just want more of it.
There’s a good mix of club synth beats and free-flowing ballads on Stronger, and as an album, it’s got a cohesive sound, message and energy that’s unapologetically pop.
But lyrically, Stronger really struggles. The disc’s lyrics are simply far too inconsistent. While “You Can’t Win” features some really clever contradictions (“If you’re thin, call it a walking disease. If you’re not, they’re all screaming obese. If you’re straight, why aren’t you married yet? If you’re gay, why aren’t you waving a flag?”), many of the other songs feature lines that prompt more than a few eye rolls. We get it, Kelly, you’re angry and sad, but do you really think telling the bastard that “dumb plus dumb equals you” is going to sting?
In spite of some bad lyrics, Clarkson wowed me again. Let’s hope that this new album hits it big, gains some recognition, and allows me to stop having my musical preferences compared to those of a 14-year-old girl.
– Adam Polaski