On her new album, Kelly Clarkson blows away the long line of female pop stars who use sex to sell.
â€œItâ€™s too bad you canâ€™t see what youâ€™re worth/spreading your legs â€™stead of using your words,â€ she sneers in the song â€œI Had a Dream.â€
â€œAnyone can sell/when theyâ€™re selling out,â€ she quips.
Itâ€™s a good line â€” not to mention an echo of Bette Midlerâ€™s recent â€œput-down read round the worldâ€ of Ariana Grande for pushing her sexual allure ahead of her pipes. But you have to wonder why Clarkson decided to fire this broadside right now.
Clarkson, the original â€œAmerican Idol,â€ has never used sex to sell â€” and never had to. Itâ€™s her battering-ram voice that excites people â€” that, and her teamâ€™s ability to find songs hot-wired for radio play. On the other hand, itâ€™s a crowded diva field these days, and putting down the competition canâ€™t help but carve you a high profile.
As it turns out, Clarksonâ€™s new album, â€œPiece by Piece,â€ needs all the profile it can get. Itâ€™s a strictly off-the-rack affair, a cynical run through current femme-pop clichÃ©s that does everything it can to bland Clarksonâ€™s essential talent.
Several albums ago, the singer famously went to war with her record company, chafing at their cookie-cutter approach to pop. Promotion folks went nuts and her sales suffered. But at least Clarkson made her point â€” if briefly.
By the time she put out her 2011 album â€œStronger,â€ the star had seemingly thrown up her hands, giving herself back over to corporate demands. Predictably, her acquiescence resulted in a huge hit with the title track â€” but at a cost. The album did little to display the more nuanced talent Clarkson can reveal live.
The singerâ€™s latest album lacks the pay-off of a guilty-pleasure hit like â€œStronger.â€ Worse, it doubles-down on her last albumâ€™s over-heated production. â€œPiece By Pieceâ€ piles on the gloss and glop. Itâ€™s a fat sounding recording that fights with, rather than enhances, Clarksonâ€™s to-the-rafters vocals.
Itâ€™s left to the lyrics to reveal some of the starâ€™s character. Two interesting songs â€” â€œSomeoneâ€ and the title track â€” repeat Clarksonâ€™s flair for the passive aggressive put-down. In â€œSomeone,â€ she offers a classic non-apology-apology, saying she wishes she didnâ€™t have to say such awful things to a foe. â€œPiece By Pieceâ€ repeats the theme of her smash, â€œBecause of You.â€ Both offer rebukes to neglectful and/or abusive parents.
Together, such songs help focus Clarksonâ€™s persona. But the rigid music, and assembly-line production, make a sad fact clear: Clarkson has never fully escaped the â€œAmerican Idolâ€ machine.