The reports that Clive Davis, the big kahuna of Kelly Clarkson’s RCA label, didn’t dig his “AI” prodigy’s raucous disc didn’t deter my sentiment for the sweet songbird’s third album. At first.
Though spiteful first-single “Never Again” is a tuneless sequel to “Since U Been Gone” (not to mention it boasts stale lyrics more suitable for a blog than a smashing song), I was betting that Clarkson, whose last disc was a mega-hit monster, could muster some musical magic a third time.
Too bad she’s no David Blaine. Though “Breakaway,” her semi-wing-spreading super-sophomore effort, gave her an artist-affirming ego boost, she blindly steers herself through a boring barrage of pissy rants and messy melodies akin to a deflated Alanis Morissette on “My December.”
Just three months ago, the once-bubbly gay fave unleashed her rubberband-ish range, zigzaging through the highs and lows of a heart-tugging Patty Griffin tune. There’s no question that Clarkson’s appeal is carried in a remarkable set of pipes that expand like an eagle, fluttering through bombastic ballads and rocking kiss-offs. But pulling an all-out Evanescence, especially when your writing skills are Griffin-deficient, is a drab exercise in already-faltering female-rock territory – even if you are the original “American Idol.”
Just ask Pink – whose hardcore-rock star quickly faded and relit after returning to her R ‘n’ B roots: A smart, pop-princess-hatin’ rant and a sassy fuck-off to men. And what happened to Alanis? Not to mention we already have gloom-master Amy Lee of Evanescence (who Clarkson seems to be mirroring in publicity shots, with her flowing gowns swimming in rose petal beds).
None of these factors fenced Clarkson from yanking out her woe-is-me diary and, there’s no doubt in my mind, scribing her word-for-word ramblings (like her overemphasized spite against “trophy wives”) into nearly-hopeless and totally-hookless tunes.
Clarkson pulls some metaphorical magic – comparing an alcohol-free state to demolishing her demons, yet still sounding defeated in the tune’s crescendo – on the primo break-up ballad “Sober.” Staying sober, at least in regard to hooks, isn’t an issue for listeners.
I was crossing my fingers, hoping I could get drunk on catchy Clarkson pop gems or, at the least, some pensively-penned tunes that didn’t resemble my middle-school journal. But where “Breakaway” was sloshed with hooks and witty writing, “My December” is like drinking one too many bottles of Boone’s Farm.
The absent radio-friendly singles – save maybe “How I Feel,” with its quasi-catchy chorus, and “Sober” – are just the beginning of the problem. Case in point No. 1: “Yeah,” a messy rock/funk electric guitar ditty with a silly spoken word mid-section. No. 2: “Be Still,” a breezy ballad that briefly lifts the gloom but stalls within seconds.
Fortunately, the lo-fi eeriness of “Irvine,” which boasts a mellow, almost-acoustic arrangement draped under Clarkson’s hauntingly high register, gleams with a hopeful hint that she’s got some magic tucked (way, way) up her sleeve. But Clarkson’s artistic escape, as easily forgettable as a night of drunken debauchery, still is in dire need of a few extra noggins: some songwriters. A new producer. And someone to tell Clarkson, “Listen to Davis, dammit!”
But she didn’t. Now I’m left thinking she should’ve just popped a few Zolofts, got over her obviously-achy split and focused on allowing her voice to be the workaholic. Instead, her misery sounds so painful. And not in the way she intended.