How does American Idol royalty abdicate the pop throne? Season 1 winner Kelly Clarkson did so pretty handily with My December, the bleak follow-up to her 2004 chart monster Breakaway. That much-maligned ?07 release was her rebel yell — a dark, jagged collection that limped toward its single-platinum (oh, hot, burning shame!) status, reportedly alienated her record label, and failed to yield a significant pop hit. Cut to 2009, and the irresistibly anthemic (if discomfitingly titled) single ”My Life Would Suck Without You”: Does her No.
Thankfully, All I Ever Wanted is not Kelly Clarkson's atonement for insisting on releasing the dark, gothic rock record My December against the wishes of label boss Clive Davis in 2007 -- well, at least not entirely. All I Ever Wanted doesn't completely abandon the tougher rock edges of My December, but it does ditch the brooding in favor of angry spunk, all the better to prove that the girl who sang "Since U Been Gone" is back. And she is -- quite self-consciously on "My Life Would Suck Without You," the first track and first single on All I Ever Wanted, a song designed by Max Martin to be an explicit sequel to his "Since U Been Gone." It's effective, if a bit clinical, running contrary to Clarkson's greatest gift: her genuineness.
Against all odds, it’s hard not to feel a modicum of respect for the most manufactured pop star in the world. Though Kelly Clarkson still carries the weight of being the first American Idol champion (inadvertently setting the template for the show’s many anonymous pop starlets to follow for years to come), it was obvious to everyone that she was never too pleased with becoming famous just because she won the world’s largest karaoke competition. Though her 2003 debut album Thankful was a moderate success, it wasn’t until the following year that she became the superstar that Idol had always intended her to be.
Just over two years ago, Kelly Clarkson took some licks for My December, an unapologetic antithesis to her usual mainstream pop that was slagged for being hopelessly uncommercial. In hindsight, it was much ado about nothing, yet that mini-controversy seems to have influenced the singer's return to familiar places. [rssbreak] All I Ever Wanted finds a balance between Clarkson's melancholia and aggression and bright, commanding voice.