Kelly Clarkson has outlasted most American Idols — probably because she was one of the first.
Clarkson, the Texas-born winner of the first season of "American Idol," succeeded thanks to her knack for co-writing and performing empowering anthems. She’s become a genuine artist in the ever-changing world of pop, and her new record, Piece By Piece, sustains her stylistic consistency.
Over the course of seven albums, Clarkson has homed in on which kind of artist she wants to be. She delivers her ballads with the conviction of a brand new artist trying to make it in music — a characteristic a lot of musicians lose after their first few records. Notable pop stars, such as Katy Perry and Carrie Underwood, have lost a lot of the emotion in their music, but Clarkson keeps her passion.
If there’s one artist Clarkson is competing with, it’s Taylor Swift. Clarkson proves she is capable of matching, sometimes besting, Swift in vocal strength. In terms of creativity, though, Swift has the lead.
Clarkson mirrors Swift’s 1989 on several occasions. Even the cover resembles the Instagram-esque 1989 cover. Competition is fine, but taking inspiration directly from a competitor’s record isn’t the way to go.
Piece By Piece doesn’t waver much from Clarkson’s style of passionate pop ballads and over-powering anthems. There are no revolutionary takes on pop or R&B.
However, Clarkson’s consistent style makes a lot of the songs on this record feel stale.
The only song that is a bit out-of-the-norm for Clarkson is “Take You High,” which contains an exhilarating electronic hook. This out-of-the-norm behavior is worth the risk; the hook of this song makes it an enjoyable experiment.
The lead single, “Heartbeat Song,” feels like Clarkson and her producers worked for months to produce one track that sounds like every single she has ever released. With its typical guitar chords and familiar pop chorus, “Heartbeat Song” was meant to be critic proof, but I’m here to burst your bubble. The biggest flaw in this track is that it feels robotic.
The songs on this record feel motivating when listened to, but, upon reflection, they go from inspirational to inhuman.
There are some great moments on this record. “Invincible,” which Sia wrote, is performed perfectly. It feels amazing in the moment but leaves a bad taste in your mouth afterward.
Clarkson has recorded singles in which there are some minor vocal errors, and it’s those performances that stand out the most.
When she’s singing about human flaws and how everyone has them in “Piece By Piece,” it’s ironic that she doesn’t let herself slip up. Clarkson obeys her sheet music to the T.
“Nostalgic” and “Dance With Me” contain urgency, showing Clarkson still feels the need to prove her worth in pop. “Someone” shows off Clarkson’s ability to deliver songs with a maximum dramatic effect, reminding the listener this Texan is still one of pop’s most powerful and forceful voices.
All of these tracks suffer from the same problem: There’s no real risk. The only hazardous tracks on the album are “Take You High” and a surprising cover of Tokio Hotel’s “Run Run Run.” The latter song would be a bust without John Legend’s help.
There’s no doubt that Kelly Clarkson is a vocally talented and empowering singer, but the over-production of this album proves to be its downfall.
Album: Piece By Piece
Artist: Kelly Clarkson