If you pointed a gun to my head and told me I had to listen to one radio-friendly, bubble-gum pop-lite songstress for the rest of my life and nothing else… well, I’d probably take the bullet. But as far as that particular corner of the pop music world goes, I suppose one could do far worse than Kelly Clarkson. She isn’t criminally bland (Taylor Swift), a moving media clusterfuck (Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson), generally just untalented (Miley Cyrus) or flat-out fucking terrifying (Christina Aguilera). Clarkson has a decent voice, she portrays that poppy, rocker chick image pretty solidly, and there’s nothing irritating or offensive about her for the most part. I realize that’s hardly showering her with praise, but let’s be honest people — coming from a music snob like me (as Dustin is so fond of calling me), that’s practically going down on her.
Anyway, Clarkson’s newest album, released March 10 (I am nothing if not timely) is called All I Ever Wanted. After the relatively weak reception of her last album, My December, it’s supposedly a return to her older style and less “dark.” Of course, calling a Kelly Clarkson album “dark” is sort of ridiculous — it’s all relative, I guess. All I Ever Wanted is certainly a return to the form of the few Clarkson songs I’m familiar with — vaguely rock-ish, with powerful, bellowing vocals and syrupy sweet softer bits. I’m not saying it’s good… it’s not. But if we’re to compare her to her contemporaries, it’s probably near the top of that heap.
But what makes the album tolerable (hell, a couple of times I even caught myself tapping my foot) is that at least it’s not completely artificial. No, she didn’t write her own music, and in fact only six songs have her name in the credits. But for the most part, the instruments are frequently live, the vocals aren’t run through a damn Auto-Tuner, and she appears to have some modicum of rock and roll heart to her. The rock and roll girl image may be carefully cultivated, to be sure, but at least it’s executed competently.
That’s not to say this is the album of the year… or month… or week. It’s still pretty derivative stuff. The single that’s bombarding the airways right now is downright awful — “My Life Would Suck Without You,” in addition to being atrociously named, is essentially a reverse ripoff of Clarkson’s own material. It’s virtually the same song as “Since U Been Gone,” only with opposite themes. The slower, breathy verse followed by a pseudo-rockin’ chorus and her clamoring on about something. Sure, sure, that’s basically Clarkson nutshelled, but this one is sort of ridiculous. It’s followed by more of the same — another idiotic title (“I Do Not Hook Up,” written by Katy Perry, oddly enough), and the exact same formula. For an album that I was anticipating getting annoyed with, I started to get annoyed pretty damn quickly.
But, there are some mildly redemptive points. “Don’t Let Me Stop You” has a little more oomph to it, and allows Clarkson to flex her vocals a little more. It’s still basically easy listening with a shot of rum thrown across it, but there’s at least a little more to it. “Already Gone” is another formulaic track, though it benefits from some interesting strumming and a heavy, clap-like percussion. Of course, it’s followed by the painfully bland “Save You,” which sounds like it should be playing at the pivotal, emotional scene in a tween romance film. Yeah, you know what I mean. The tracks are certainly well-crafted bits of pop sugar — catchy as all hell and certainly danceable. I’m sure they’ll play well with the dance club set, and if that’s the goal, then by all means: mission accomplished. But Clarkson seems to bill herself (or is marketed thusly) as someone with a bit more to offer than the conventional popketeer, despite her watered-down “American Idol” beginnings.
If there’s a highlight to the album, it’s easily “Whyyouwannabringmedown,” which, despite it’s inexplicable disdain for the space bar, is a pretty rockin’ tune. It’s sort of an homage to an older school of female punk-power-chord rock, but also borrowing heavily from the modern girl rock acts like Damone and The Donnas. If Clarkson could throw out an entire album of this, I might change my mind. It features some nice power chords and an honest-to-god guitar solo, which is pretty much unheard of in modern pop music. “I Want You” is another decent one — not a rocker, more of a uptempo hand clapper of a song with some cute lyrical repeats.
That’s basically the extent of it. Other than those two tracks, there’s nothing here you haven’t heard before on the radio or… in Hell. It’s just a bit less aggravating. Clarkson herself seems to be less of an ego-headcase than her contemporaries, a little more grounded and charming, which helps as well, I suppose. But at the end of the day, All I Ever Wanted is basically like… Bud Light. It’s not good. I’m never going to buy it. I’m never going to serve it. I’m never going to order it. But, at the same time, I’m not going to spit it out, either. Maybe that’s not high praise, but it’s the best I can offer you.
TK can often be found staggering around his back yard, wishing for a zombie attack and shouting at leaves. He studies the dark arts of cheeseburger-making and cultivating the Merciless Pepper of Quetzlzacatenango. He wastes valuable time at Uncooked Meat.