Album review: Kelly Clarkson – Piece by Piece
I’m not sure what is more amazing – that Kelly Clarkson is still standing, or that the world is still listening. As the first American Idol winner way back in 2002, Clarkson’s career was a test-tube pop experiment, a record company gamble that has set the template for scores of subsequent music careers.
As the final release in her seven-album contract with RCA, Piece by Piece is proof that Clarkson has exceeded all the financial wagers made in her name.
Four years have passed since her last album of original material – 2011’s Stronger – during which time Clarkson has married and had her first child. Yet the respectable radio play of album opener Heartbreak Song suggests the world still has not heard enough of her.
Sadly it’s all downhill from there. This is an uninspiring set of identikit, orchestral/electro-pop. Clarkson’s strength has always been the searing voice but here she is left floundering in a hopeless battle against relentlessly overwhelming and misguidedly inappropriate material, as she tries in vain to inject some soul into a sea of soaring strings, tinny beats and throbbing synths. The biggest cringe moment comes when the generic synth-driven ballad Take You High suddenly lurches into a misplaced electro breakdown that is completely at odds with the gospel-tinged chorus.
One hopes the John Legend duet Run Run Run might offer some sanctuary, but this is perhaps the worst offender, cramming more rousing melodrama into four and a half minutes than the entire Twilight soundtrack.
More stomachable is the Madonna-esque pop of Nostalgic and the shamelessly 1980s trouncer Dance with Me. And Invincible, co-written by Sia, is the kind of self-empowering ballad we’ve come to expect from Clarkson.
This is an album of sound, not song. Taken collectively, the sledgehammer assault of these lifeless arrangements is mentally exhausting and emotionally empty.