Kelly Clarkson | Stronger (RCA Records)

cd kelly-clarksonLittle does he know he’s the only one holding on to that ongoing beautiful disaster.

 

“Hmm…” is all I can think as I listen to Kelly Clarkson’s latest release, Stronger. This album is about ending a relationship with a boy who has wrecked so much havoc on her spirit, yet he doesn’t think it’s over. Little does he know he’s the only one holding on to that ongoing beautiful disaster.

Opening the album is my favorite song on Stronger, “Mr. Know It All.” This one is reminiscent of Clarkson’s earlier “Ms. Independent” with its raging, extraordinary vocals. Here, she tells him (and them) about her: “So what, you’ve got the world at your feet/ and you know everything about everything, but you don’t./ You still think I’m coming back, but baby you’ll see…/ That’s why I’m leaving you lonely.”

Not only is that sentiment laced throughout the album, but so is the message that she is victorious despite his habit of hurting her repeatedly. “What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger)” has such a catchy hook of perseverance, reiterating the phrase we’ve all heard a thousand and one times: “What doesn’t kill you makes a fighter/ footsteps even lighter doesn’t mean I’m over because you’re gone,” she belts.

I’ve been waiting for Clarkson to vocally top Breakaway, but this album merely shows her in a different light as a rocker. It doesn’t allow for her to showcase her singing ability as opposed to her yelling. Am I a fan of this Kelly? Not so much vocally, but lyrically, yes. “You said you loved me, but that I’m not good enough/ So understand that it means nothing when you say you love me.” “You Love Me” finishes the painting just as it should: quick, honest, and finite.

While the music to “Einstein” is nice to karaoke to, the sound is the same as the previous tracks; so is the mathematical equation that she paints of this dead-end relationship I no longer care to hear about. She tries to even the tone by transitioning into a calmer mood on “Standing in Front of You,” but this song doesn’t seem like it fits. The epiphany that Clarkson realizes in “I Forgive You” is a beautiful lesson achieved through pain: “I forgive you, I forgive me,” she boasts, as she knows a new self will emerge from the ashes like a phoenix. For a moment, I’m pleased with a peek at Clarkson with an upbeat song that’s not filled with angry yelling. In “Hello,” she harnesses and controls the reins—not only of herself, but of the drums, tambourine, and guitar—as she welcomes a new phase of letting go and just living.

In “This War Is Over,” the drums release the tension built up inside after she’s been fighting for so long: with herself, her mate, and her love. Here, Clarkson decides to wave the white flag because she’s finally stopped succumbing to his lies and realized he doesn’t deserve her: He’s simply not worthy of her or her reaction, be it hurt or defeat.

Concluding the album with a ballad is the best way to recover from the tumultuous battle of Stronger, as “Breaking Your Own Heart” hems the tear in my heart with this fifth album. As someone who’s observed another self-destruct, I find that still you have to be willing to rescue them when they need it, and sometimes even when they can’t save themselves. You must reassure them that, “It’s not too late, I’m still right here/ if only you let go of your fear./ You’re breaking your own heart, taking your own heart down a lonely road./ You say you just want love, but when it’s close enough you just let it go./ The very thing you’ve been the most afraid of you’ve been doing it from the start/ breaking your own heart.”

Starting out as a sassy, in-your-face album, Stronger illustrates that, in order to remain afloat through the entangled middle, you have to remember the shore is only visible once you rise from near bottom. While I understand that you are Stronger, Kelly Clarkson, don’t forget that you can still have vulnerability in strength. It’s not all or nothing here; it’s everything. C+| Ashley White

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