I’ve been a Kelly Clarkson fan since her Breakaway days. It’s probably her success that introduced me to American Idol – and ultimately my favorite artist Carrie Underwood.
Stronger is Kelly Clarkson’s fifth studio album and the follow up to All I Ever Wanted, which she released in 2009. Two years later, she is on the music scene again: promos, singles on radios and the rest of the shenanigans. But things drastically changed since 2009. Radio is obviously not as receptive anymore even though – granted – her debut single “Mr. Know It All” was drastically different than the pop jam “My Life Would Suck Without You,” which I prefer.
Does Stronger live up to the hype set up for it by Kelly’s fans, numerous leaks over the course of several months and Kelly herself who stated this is her “strongest” album yet? The answer is a succinct no.
Stronger starts with Mr. Know It All – a song about a guy who thought he knew everything there is to know about the girl but she’s telling him otherwise. As I said in my review of the song, it’s not necessarily a bad song. It’s not what I would have envisioned as a strong debut single and its performance on the charts and iTunes, compared to Kelly’s previous lead single, proves my point so far.
The second song on the album, and the announced second single, is “What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger)“, the most obvious pop smash on the album. The Nietzsche-“inspired” single has Kelly belting out the chorus at full force: “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, stand a little taller, doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone!”
Stronger then delivers one of its better songs with “Dark Side,” a solemn song about a girl professing to the guy and asking him if he could love her even though she had a dark side: “Everybody’s got a dark side. Do you love me? Can you love mine?”
“Honestly” is another of the album’s better songs – and one of its highlight ballads. You can feel the anguish on the song as Kelly sings: “Would you face me, make me listen to the truth even it breaks me? You can judge me, love me. If you’re hating me, do it honestly.” It’s a song about regret, about a love lost and you can feel the emotions on it. The transition from delicate to intense vocals on “Honestly” is captivating.
“You Love Me” has a 80’s reminiscent beat going for it. It’s Kelly’s reply to a guy who thought she wasn’t good enough for him. “You didn’t let me down. You didn’t tear me apart. You just opened my eyes while breaking my heart. You didn’t do it for me; I’m not as dumb as you think, you just made me cry by claiming that you love me, you love me, you love me.”
“Einstein” is a song with an interesting concept and catchy beat. But ultimately, it comes out as a little silly. It’s basically a giant mathematical equation where Kelly is telling the guy that she “may not be Einstein but I know dumb + dumb = you.”
“Standing In Front of You” has an ethereal feel to it. It’s a ballad that is not as strong as “Honestly.” I found myself enjoying the melody and the tone of the verses much more than the chorus, which has a very subdued feel to it, making the song definitely skippable.
“I Forgive You” is another uptempo. However, unlike the catchy “What Doesn’t Kill You,” I cannot wrap my head around this and it’s not catchy enough for it to stick without me wanting it to. The lyrics are a mess as well. “I forgive you, I forgive me. Now when do I start to feel again? Cause the lights are on but I’m never home. But I’ll be back with a brand new attitude, cause I forgive you.”
The album then proceeds with a “Hello,” a song where the lyrics are quite dark but the melody is a happy uptempo. It’s a song about loneliness – even among people. “Hello, is anybody listening?” Kelly asks. “It’s everyone that’s calling me. Won’t somebody show me that I’m not alone?
On “The War Is Over,” Kelly is facing the guy who doesn’t deserve him telling him that the war between them is over. It’s the perfect song to tell anyone they don’t deserve you. “All I have to say is you don’t deserve me. I’m finally walking away cause you’ll only hurt me,” she sings. “And I won’t let you pull me in because I know you’re gonna win. The war is over, the war is over…”
“Let Me Down” is another highlight of the song for me. Sure, it’s a typical pop song. But it’s insanely catchy. It sticks halfway through your first listen of the chorus and stays there. “You’re only gonna let down. When it counts, you countdown,” Kelly fiercely sings. “You’re only gonna me turn me out. As I burn, you burn out. You’re only gonna make me feel so crazy but when I think we can be something, you go ahead and let me down.”
“You Can’t Win” is about a girl who can’t win when it comes to men, about how everything she does comes back to bite her. It’s a clever little song with an interesting drum-based beat behind it. The cleverest line? “If you’re straight, why aren’t you married yet? If you’re gay, why aren’t you waving a flag?”
The last song on the album’s standard version is another ballad titled “Breaking Your Own Heart” and it has the crystal clear Kelly vocals with her head voice moments that I love. The problem with this song as an album closer is that it goes nowhere and doesn’t serve as a really strong closer. I prefer the verses to the chorus. “Too many tears, too many falls,” she sings, “it’s easier here behind these walls. But you don’t have to walk in the shadows when life is so hard. Breaking your own heart, taking it too far down the lonely road…”
The Deluxe version of the album has four extra songs, one of which being Kelly’s country duet with Jason Aldean: “Don’t You Wanna Stay,” the best song out of bunch – and not really hers. In fact, the closing song on the deluxe version, “The Sun Will Rise” should have replaced “Breaking Your Own Heart” as the closing song on the regular edition of the album.
It could be that I think Kelly’s talent is too great for her to make such an album but I’m definitely disappointed by “Stronger.” The lyrics are more often than not cliched and the melodies too familiar. It could be that after the Adele invasion of US pop radio, I thought someone with Kelly’s vocal chops would make an album of the level of epicness that is in 21 – one that represents her life as it is. But alas, Stronger falls to the same issue with almost every other pop artist today: making an album that is catchy enough while staying artistically relevant. In Kelly’s case, the album has its shining moments here and there. But on the overall, it falls short from expectations, especially after having such high expectations from an artist that I cannot but respect especially after giving the world songs like the epic “Already Gone,” “Because of You,” etc…
While the marketing strategy has not been all over the place as it was with her previous two albums: she is actively promoting it, going on TV shows, countering the leaks with song uploads to YouTube, etc… I hope this album does well on the charts for Kelly because I truly want to see her succeed. Hopefully for her next album, she’ll have enough room to maneuver around the tight boundaries set by her label and make an album that truly represents her artistically – one that isn’t coloring by numbers to get a radio hit here or a cool video concept there. I also have hope that Texan Kelly Clarkson would fuse more country music in her upcoming albums because that is a genre where she can truly shine, as was obvious on her duet with Jason Aldean.
Should you buy Stronger when it comes out on October 24th? It’s not a bad album per se, but if you’re a casual Kelly Clarkson fan more into her “Already Gone“s than her “Since You Been Gone“s, you will find little solace on “Stronger.” For many, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But when you see her cover songs like Carrie Underwood’s “I Know You Won’t” and make a great job at it, it’s tough to see such talent wasted on songs like many of the ones on “Stronger,” an album I’ve had for a few days now and don’t find myself interested in listening to in its entirety. Now many people will feel the same – and that is a bad thing.
Songs to download: What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger), Dark Side, Let Me Down, Honestly.