I’ve been listening to Kelly Clarkson’s latest album for almost three days now. I want to believe I’ve set my biases aside. Am I being generous in this review of the Meaning of Life? Do I want her to badly succeed considering I’ve been a stan for her music since Breakaway?
Since the release of her sophomore album, none, even Grammy Pop Album of the Year winner Stronger, have come close – in either commercial success or quality. And when I refer to the latter, I mean the kind where you barely skip a track as you listen to it from start to finish, and you manage to revisit it over and over again, and years down the line. To be fair, the bar is quite high. We are talking about Breakaway, a record that managed to spawn the title track, Since U Been Gone, Behind These Hazel Eyes, Because of You and Walk Away. Even today, majority of the artists will never have anything that can hold up to it.
But here we are, more than a decade later, and she has come back with Meaning of Life. Many consider this her Emancipation of Mimi. Others celebrate her new found freedom with a record that would never be derailed by Clive Davis. She has distanced herself from the pop rock music we have come to expect of her. And that’s not a bad thing.
Before the Since U Been Gone, My Life Would Suck Without You and Stronger-Kelly Clarkson we have come to know, we fell in love with the American Idol-Kelly Clarkson. She was a vocal powerhouse, belted out notes at the top of her lungs, and restraint was not something she exercised. She sang music that commanded a presence and her carefree attitude lit up the stage every time she performed. And I’m glad to say she’s back.
Love So Soft and Move You came out ahead of the album and gave us a peak of what Kelly Clarkson has to offer. The first drew comparisons to Meghan Trainor and Candyman-era Christina Aguilera. But it had the sass the first one had zero of and the contemporary flavor that made the second one dated. Move You gave us the assurance that the balladeer was still alive. Neither represent the album fully in terms of direction. But what they will have in common is the fire in her delivery, the power in her voice and the music taking primacy over any drama or back story.
All albums have that ballad that can either melt your heart or reaffirm why it’s broken. Think Thinking Out Loud for x or Someone Like You for 21. I Don’t Think About You is this album’s bet. It’s the anthem that will make you wish you were heartbroken (even when you’re not).
It’s also been a long time since we’ve had a record as upbeat and as vocally powerful as Medicine. Upon first listen, it sounds like a ball of nuclear energy, that if released, will annihilate all matter surrounding it. Many have compared it to Emotions by Mariah Carey or earlier Whitney Houston material. It’s as if it belonged to a completely different era. Yet, I’d argue this kind of sound is what this generation has been missing out on for some time now.
A lot of her songs in the album are ones you’d come to expect from seasoned professionals, the ones you can expect her to perform in VH1 Divas Live (when the show was still relevant and had high standards). Imagine her before a crowd, all dressed up and belting out Heat, Cruel or Slow Dance.
Meaning of Life was important for Kelly as it would demonstrate to people she would work with the direction she was taking. But at the same time, it is a perfect summary of her relationship with her husband Brandon Blackstock, who in my view, has managed to make her records more inspired and ultimately better. Even this acts as a perfect title track given how much more meaning her record has for her.
No doubt, she has earned her slot among the legends – alongisde Aretha Franklin, Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. While this will not match the commercial success of most of her records, there is no doubt it is filled with gems that will make today’s trash even trashier. It is a record I am sure she’s proud of, and us fans are too.