The pop-star journey for vocalist Kelly Clarkson (American Idol’s first winner) has been a roller-coaster ride, to put it mildly. After seeing some initial successes with hits like “Breakaway,” “Because of You” and “Since U Been Gone,” it started to feel for awhile that the idol’s veneer was starting to fade. Even though Clarkson continued to chart with singles like “Never Again” and “I Do Not Hook Up,” there was this gnawing feeling that she was floundering, perhaps losing her way. There was even speculation in some camps that Reba McIntire’s cover of “Because of You” (as a duet with Clarkson) and the subsequent “2 Worlds, 2 Voices Tour 2008” were an attempt to rescue Clarkson’s career.
With Clarkson’s latest release Stronger (released Fall 2011), those speculations should be put to rest. The record’s first two singles, “Mr. Know It All” and “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” are getting plenty of radio spins and downloads, and have been topping the charts—and her appearance on the hit country single “Don’t You Wanna Stay” with Jason Aldean has certainly done nothing but help her.
Stronger reveals a more mature Kelly Clarkson, who seems to be more comfortable in her own skin and her own role as a musical artist than on previous albums. The record is filled with great hooks, and Clarkson’s voice has never been better. While there are still those signature, high-note, throwaway moments of passion, she shows a mastery of her vocal chops throughout the recording that is quite pleasant to hear, actually. One of the finest moments on the record, in my opinion, is the song “Dark Side,” a beautiful ballad in which Clarkson sings in a voice so reflective and understated that it is frankly refreshing to hear.
Perhaps my only complaint about the album: I can’t help but wonder if Clarkson has anything else to sing about besides dysfunctional romantic relationships. I’m getting a bit tired of the pissed-off, my-ex-is-so-stupid songs. Clarkson is a truly talented vocalist, and I’d really like to hear her cover a broader range of material.
Oh, well. Maybe next time. At any rate, Stronger is a definite step in the right direction for Clarkson, and gives me confidence that she’s back on track as a charting artist.