Burleson native Kelly Clarkson has been all over TV and magazines promoting the release of her sixth pop album Piece by Piece (in stores Tuesday). In a CBS Sunday Morningprofile that aired this weekend, Clarkson said that her outlook on making music has changed since she entered her 30s and became a mother.
"This is what I'm rocking musically ... physically ... emotionally - you can either love it, or you don't have to."
Clarkson's candor and rebel spirit have endeared her to millions of fans as much as her golden voice has. But does the music on Piece by Piece differ from what we've heard in her hit parade so far? Not exactly. The poppy choruses, flawless vocals and relationship concerns are all there in the new collection, with notable creative assists from the likes of Sia and John Legend.
The new LP is far from the kind of groundbreaking collection for which we know Clarkson possesses the chops, but it's solid enough to keep her career moving in a fruitful direction. Since Clarkson is one of our own, let's examine Piece by Piece track-by-track:
1. "Heartbeat Song" - My initial misgivings about this single had to do with it being an overly simple radio ditty and nothing more. I've softened to it since, and it works well as the album's mood-setting opener. The line "I can't believe I ever breathed without you" perfectly sums up Clarkson's new-motherhood glow.
2. "Invincible" - Fortunately, Clarkson and her producers began to think beyond tested formulas on the album's second single, co-written by the recently ubiquitous Sia. Its chorus is epic and weaves together confident lead vocals and well-placed oh-oh-ohs. And Clarkson lets the ad-libs fly at the end - a good thing for her.
3. "Someone" - The easy melodies keep coming, this time layered over synth lines that would sound right at home on Taylor Swift's 1989 album. Vocally, this is the same Clarkson we heard on the 2009 tune, "Already Gone."
4. "Take You High" - This song's sonic surprise is that its biggest hook contains no lyrics. Clarkson builds drama through the verses and pre-chorus, surrendering to a swirling blend of chopped up vocal samples. I'd run to a song like this - if I ran.
5. "Piece by Piece" - The album's title track loses some of its intended impact because it never strays from a plodding march and sing-song vocal arrangement.
6. "Run Run Run" - Clarkson and duet partner John Legend blend beautifully on this initially soft piano ballad, and it packs a full-band wallop in its final moments. Think of this one as a darker companion to Legend's "All of Me."
7. "I Had a Dream" - Clarkson co-wrote this anthem with the intention of inspiring her generation to engage in the world around them, to have a voice. The chorus does just that, but the verses become bogged down with a couple of odd references to the perils of promiscuity.
8. "Let Your Tears Fall" - Building on the heart-on-sleeve empowerment of past hit "Stronger," co-writers Sia and Greg Kurstin give Clarkson a worthwhile universal message to deliver: Be strong on your own, but also let others help you.
9. "Tightrope" - The third album track co-written by Clarkson puts a hopeful spin on a tumultuous relationship. Problem is, it encounters the same problem as the album's title song in that its melody never reaches higher than middling.
10. "War Paint" - It's a common message in love songs: Peel off your mask and let me see the real you. Yet the rigid dance beat and limited melodic range here don't necessarily allow for unbridled expression. Maybe I'm overthinking.
11. "Dance With Me" - What starts with some U2-style ringing guitars quickly becomes another dance-y pop tune, but this time the carefree lyrics fall right in line with the sound.
12. "Nostalgic" - Clarkson confirms near the end of the album that she's as '80s-obsessed as any of her contemporaries. "Nostalgic" amounts to a perfect pop confection, a song Roxette might have recorded during its brief dominance.
13. "Good Goes the Bye" - This is the final track on the album's standard edition (we've yet to hear three bonus deluxe-edition tunes coming out Tuesday). Partly penned by country-pop vets Shane McAnally and Natalie Hemby, "Good Goes the Bye" takes the album out in fine lovesick fashion. I'm not sure I can fully support the "hush goes the phone" lyric, though.