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Kelly Clarkson “All I Ever Wanted” Review

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The release of Kelly Clarkson’s fourth album, All I Ever Wanted, has to come as a relief for the singer, especially considering the drama that surrounded 2007’s My December. Between the label’s outspoken dissatisfaction with her songs and Clive Davis supposedly having offered Clarkson $10 million to scrap five of its tracks in favor of selections of his choosing, the grief alone should have driven her mad. And it almost did. After the release of the album she canceled its supporting tour and fired her manager. Responding to all of the controversy, she commented “I just want people to hear it, instead of 100-year old executives making decisions on what’s good for pop radio. It’s people my age who listen to it. My gut hasn’t been wrong yet, so why wouldn’t I continue to follow it?” I believe that Stephen Colbert might call such an intuitive gut reaction “truthiness.” And removed from the overwhelming drama Clarkson now finds herself refreshed, renewed and going with her gut once again. This time around the recording process included working with a new production team, a new group of writers and a new outlook based on what’s transpired in the past year and a half, but the question remains whether or not her instincts will continue leading her in the right direction.

When the album’s first single, “My Life Would Suck Without You,” was released in January Clarkson’s instincts were almost immediately vindicated—the song finding immediate success while making history in the process. The single jumped from 97 to the number one position on the Billboard Hot 100, making it the largest leap to number one ever. Not only that, but it became the singer’s first single to top the charts since her first, 2002’s “A Moment Like This.” Co-written by Max Martin and Dr. Luke (the duo behind Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” and Britney Spears’ “If U Seek Amy”) the song’s guitar rolls along before thrusting into the song’s chorus, not unlike that of her second highest charting single, “Since U Been Gone.” From there the album rolls into the first of two songs co-written by Katy Perry, “I Do Not Hook Up.”

After comparing Clarkson’s version to Perry’s it’s quite noticeable that while the original composition remains essentially intact, the vocal part is a bit more fitting for Clarkson’s hearty gasps. That’s been a pattern for the singer though, utilizing others’ songwriting and adding her powerful voice in creating something that sounds entirely hers. Be it Avril Lavigne’s “Breakaway” from a few years back or Clarkson’s work with Chantal Kreviazuk and Our Lady Peace’s Raine Maida, she’s long since proven her ability to utilize the skills of those she works with.

For as much as she’s able to do that however, some of the weaker songs on All I Ever Wanted are those co-written by Clarkson—in particular those written with the album’s co-producer and OneRepublic frontman Ryan Tedder. Aside from “If I Can’t Have You” the duo’s lyrics fail to grab the listener, particularly “Impossible.” “Can’t change the winds you say/Won’t matter anyway/Can’t reach that far/Cause it’s impossible.” The song’s overly sentimental theme feels a bit inappropriate, but considering it’s placement in the later stages of the record where the tempo has all but gone to rest, it’s not entirely out of place. And the faults of the song don’t reflect the quality of its sound—if there’s one thing that can be said for those tracks, Kelly’s voice fails to crack throughout.

If we’ve learned anything from the video of Clarkson jumping on stage with Metal Skool a few years back, it’s that: a) she has a killer sense of humor and b) even at her drunkest, she’s still got an amazing voice. That being said, there are definitely some songs that fail to make good on what she’s capable of. “I Want You” is written as a playful bopper, but it compresses her voice into something that is far beneath its potential. The song style is better suited for someone like Lily Allen, as it leaves a lot of room for the vocals to be played with while staying away from any extended moments where the spotlight is solely on the singer.

Aside from “I Want You” Clarkson’s voice is allowed to extend itself as far as it can go. There’s a reason that she’s not joining the fashionable pop artists in wading knee deep in vocoder—plain and simple she doesn’t need to experiment with ways to make her voice sound unique and powerful. As weak as the lyrics from “Impossible” are, the song still sounds great solely because of the vocals. With her rendition of Aranda’s “Whyyawannabringmedown” Clarkson strips down her voice as much as she can to match the ragged (well, ragged for a polished pop album) guitar track that echoes behind her. But even when she’s trying to sound raw sounds as crisp and full as ever.

When the artificial-looking cover for Clarkson’s “My Life Would Suck Without You” was released she posted the following blog post in response, “it’s very colorful and they have definitely photo-shopped the crap out of me but i don’t care haha! whoever she is, she looks great ha!” With All I Ever Wanted Clarkson’s not creating anything remotely edgy, she’s not stepping outside of what’s worked for her in the past, and she’s not paving the way for any new trends in pop music. Yet Clarkson’s still not catering to executives who would rather sharpen her recording approach to align her against her contemporaries, and she’s remains strong in creating music that’s comfortable to her. Truthiness in pop music is rare, but once again Kelly Clarkson’s instincts have proven to be the best guide for her and her career.