Kelly Clarkson, the winner of the first season of American Idol, released her fifth album, entitled Stronger, on October 24th, after delays lasting nearly a year.
Though American Idol is what launched Clarkson to national prominence, it was her second studio album, Breakaway, that served as her true breakthrough, with five singles (“Breakaway”, “Since U Been Gone”, “Behind These Hazel Eyes”, “Because of You”, and “Walk Away”) all reaching worldwide success. In the years since Breakaway was released, much of Clarkson’s music career has been cited as shadows of that album, especially the Grammy Award-winning “Since U Been Gone”.
Stronger has been described by Clarkson as her first concept album, with each of its songs focusing on themes of self-empowerment (hence the title). Topically, much of the album retreads the same themes her previous albums have covered: girl power and asserting independence.
Some, if not many, of the album’s tracks would be underwhelming in the hands of basically anyone but Kelly Clarkson, bogged down by occasionally vapid lyrics. Clarkson, who was named by Esquire magazine as the best vocalist in the history of pop music, manages to bring emotion and heart to sometimes lifeless lyrics. What makes this more impressive is that in a pop music world full of AutoTune and other computer-automated tricks, Clarkson uses none; she doesn’t need to.
Stronger‘s first track, “Mr. Know It All”, also served as the album’s first single. In the hands of another vocalist, “Mr. Know It All” could easily be dismissed as an inferior musical rip-off of Bruno Mars “Just the Way You Are”. Clarkson manages to deliver the necessary passion and emotion to not just sell the song.
Another of the album’s highlights is its second track, “What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger)”, which fits the Clarkson’s hit making cookie cutter to a T: tenderly-sung verses that explode into the kind of huge chorus that no one can deliver quite like Kelly Clarkson. She also especially shines songs like “You Love Me”, “Let Me Down”, and “You Can’t Win”, all of which she co-wrote.
With Stronger, listeners may not exactly find pop gold, or even an heir apparent to her 2004 hit “Since U Been Gone”, but you will find one of pop music’s most gifted vocalists delivering songs in the best way she knows howâ€”with emotion and raw power.