Release Date: Oct 27, 2017
Record label: Atlantic
N ew label, new sound is the overriding theme of Kelly Clarkson's eighth album, her first for Atlantic and billed as the one she's always wanted to make. So out goes the pop-rock hybrid; in its place sits a broad, old-school soul inflection that initially manifests itself as Meghan Trainor pastiche on the ungainly Love So Soft. But it's when modern touches - distorted vocals, looped hooks, pitched melodies - intertwine with the old that things get interesting.
With Meaning of Life, Kelly Clarkson opens up a new chapter of her career, moving from RCA to Atlantic Records. Switching labels gives Clarkson the freedom to pursue a different kind of music, an opportunity she seizes here by leaning hard into soul and R&B. Clarkson doesn't entirely abandon adult-leaning pop -- Greg Kurstin, one of the producers du jour in 2017, comes aboard for the sparkling "Would You Call That Love," a song that glistens -- but there's an undeniable soulful undercurrent on Meaning of Life.
Kelly Clarkson claims Meaning of Life, her first album after parting ways with longtime label RCA Records, is the soul record she's wanted to make since being crowned the inaugural winner of American Idol 15 years ago. Ironically, though, the 1960s-style R&B of songs like “Don't You Pretend” and “Meaning of Life” is closer in style to that of her 2002 debut, Thankful, which ran the gamut from adult contemporary to urban pop, than the series of pop-rock-leaning efforts that would go on to define Clarkson's career. Aside from Meaning of Life's sonic and stylistic consistency, one notable difference between the material here and songs like “The Trouble with Love Is” is the rawness of Clarkson's vocals.
W ay back in 2002 - in the days of Will Young v Gareth Gates, and Fame Academy - Kelly Clarkson triumphed on the first series of American Idol. Rasputin-like, she has since displayed a staying power that's rare for talent-show victors, making it through the RCA deal she inked off the back of the show, before moving to Atlantic last year. While the first single from this new album - Love So Soft - is little more than Candyman-era Christina Aguilera with a hint of on-trend trap, there are plenty of strong and saleable tracks here.
Kelly Clarkson has never been one to stand on ceremony. Across the seven albums she's released since first winning "American Idol" 15 years ago, Clarkson has always led with her biggest hits, landing a series of vocal knockouts in quick succession instead of structuring albums that steadily, patiently build up to them, favoring pop payloads over payoffs. Keeping that in mind makes Clarkson's decision to open "Meaning of Life" with slow-burning "A Minute (Intro)," the first intro track of her career, all the more notable.
Few successes in pop music have been as hard-earned as Kelly Clarkson's; the story of her career is as much about fighting industry crud at every turn as it is about stardom. Her American Idol win, the show's inaugural and arguably most fruitful result, came after a lot of failed and stalled starts at record deals. "Since U Been Gone," the single that launched her career as a standalone artist, also launched the career of disgraced producer Dr.