Release Date: Mar 3, 2015
Record label: RCA
In an ever-shifting pop landscape, there’s something reassuring about Kelly Clarkson. Over the course of seven albums she’s honed her formula of thundering powerpop anthems and sky-scraping ballads, all delivered with the kind of conviction most pop stars ditch after two albums. On Piece By Piece there are also chinks of experimentation; the splintered electronics on Take You High, the Phoenix-esque Nostalgic and the pulsating urgency of Dance With Me.
How do you not root for Kelly Clarkson at this point? It’s been nearly 13 years since she won the first season of American Idol and outside of Carrie Underwood, you can make an awfully strong argument that there isn’t a single other artist to come from that series who has enjoyed more success in the mainstream than she has. It didn’t come easy, of course. “She’s a one-hit wonder,” some proclaimed after “Miss Independent” ruled the airwaves.
"Even if we wanted/You can't turn back the hands of time," Kelly Clarkson sings over the synth strut of the aptly titled "Nostalgic." But the OG American Idol manages to pull off that clock reversal, flooring her DeLorean back to the Eighties on her seventh studio album. She gets her Molly Ringwald on to "Heartbeat Song," the pulsating first single. On "Dance With Me," Clarkson channels her inner Pat Benatar over a "Where the Streets Have No Name" thump.
Recording has rarely come easy for Kelly Clarkson. The classic example of this trouble is My December, the album where she attempted to break away from her American Idol benefactors to find her own way, but 2015's Piece by Piece bears signs of a potentially rocky creation. At the very least, its gleaming surface is evidence that during the four-year hiatus between 2011's Stronger and this 2015 release, she and 19/BMG spent considerable time figuring out which direction she should pursue as she entered the second phase of her career.
Though she's got an impressive six platinum albums to her name, Kelly Clarkson should be competing with commercial juggernauts like Taylor Swift and Adele, in the past proving herself capable of the former's shrewd reinventions and the latter's vocal prowess. But the last decade has seen the singer abandon both of those proclivities, apparently content to ride the cookie-cutter pop-rock bus she hopped on in the mid aughts with the likes of Pink until the wheels fall off. What with its retro cover art and occasional nods to '80s power-pop, Clarkson's seventh album, Piece by Piece, is in many ways analogous to 1989.
Kelly Clarkson, winner of the first series of American Idol, has outlasted most reality stars, thanks to a knack for spotting (or co-writing) exactly the right air-punching empowerment anthems. But she’s also a truth-teller, and her candour carries her seventh album, which otherwise doesn’t provide many new angles on pop, rock or R&B. Her venom on the muscular pop title track – which compares her father unfavourably with her stepfather – is splattered across the song: “He restored my faith that a man could be kind and a father could stay,” it runs, climaxing in a feral wail.
On her new album, Kelly Clarkson blows away the long line of female pop stars who use sex to sell. “It’s too bad you can’t see what you’re worth/spreading your legs ’stead of using your words,” she sneers in the song “I Had a Dream.” “Anyone can sell/when they’re selling out,” she quips. It’s a good line — not to mention an echo of Bette Midler’s recent “put-down read round the world” of Ariana Grande for pushing her sexual allure ahead of her pipes.
Kelly Clarkson has a great big voice. It is a voice with the power to scrape the sky with unbridled emotion. Every feeling — from joy to anger to anguish to enthusiasm — is writ large when the pop star wants to go for broke. And on her mostly appealing new album, “Piece by Piece,” Clarkson often wants to go for broke.
Few singers are as invigorating as Kelly Clarkson, the pop world's equivalent of feeling Zestfully clean. In the four years since Stronger, the former American Idol winner has become a wife and mother, but her mission as a pop star hasn't wavered: she's here to help you StairMaster the drama away with empowering lyrics and power wailing cranked to 11. Piece By Piece was primarily produced by Greg Kurstin, the pop Svengali behind Stronger's best songs, who does not fuss too much with Clarkson's big, shiny radio-friendly formula.
Kelly Clarkson has thrived as a nice girl with a big voice and a grudge. Her career-defining hits have been good-riddance songs like “Since U Been Gone” and “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You),” the messy reconciliation of “My Life Would Suck Without You,” and confessions of trauma and ….
Throughout her career, Kelly Clarkson has consistently received kudos for her commanding voice and ferocious declarations of self-empowerment. However, her versatility as a performer is far more intrinsic to her enduring success. In recent years, the native Texan has released a Christmas album, crossed over to mainstream country (the Jason Aldean duet “Don’t You Wanna Stay”), honored songwriters Patti Page and Carole King at the Grammys, and even dabbled in standards (“Little Green Apples,” a duet with Robbie Williams on his 2013 swing album).