Tuesday, March 10, 2009
I've had Kelly Clarkson's new album "All I Ever Wanted" for a few weeks. I was a fan of the single "My Life Would Suck Without You." I thought the title of the song was brilliant. Kelly apologizing to her fans for alienating them with her last album "My December" yet letting them know she was back with music they would like. Her life would suck without us. Okay, I can buy that for a dollar. Even though this song sounds like a Miley Cyrus remake of "Since You've Been Gone," it's catchy. Not great, but catchy. But guess what? I'm not here to review her new album. You either "acquired" it early or you just bought it. Regardless, the internet is flooded with reviews of the album. At the least everyone who reviews it likes it. They all have things about they don't love, but it's all over the board. So she's done it right, she's appealing to her entire demographic. However, she's doing so with a great edge. That said, it's the last I'll say about the new album in this blog.
Two years ago, Kelly Clarkson released the album "My December." It was tough, rough, dark and downright angry. Clive Davis, the president of her record company did not want her to release this album. And he was very public about it. The same man who signed Janis Joplin was afraid Kelly's album may have been to edgy. No one wanted her to release this album. Who wants to hear this pop chick sing rock? But it wasn't about that. Kelly is not only an amazing singer, but she's an award winning song writer. And she decided when she made "My December" she was going to do it for herself. So she wrote an entire album with her touring band and the result was the most underrated album of 2007 if not the entire decade. You may disagree, but give it time.
First and foremost, if you can get past the horrible cover art, over-photoshopped photo and bad design, there's a great record underneath.
When I first heard the album I was blown away. I was taken right back to the early 80's listening to Pat Benatar. I loved it. Then I saw how the blogs and media were dogging the record and I kept wondering, "Are we listening to the same record?" Then I thought maybe I was way off base and just not hearing the music right. At the time, I was doing some promotion for a few local bands and musicians. So I took the "My December" album to them. I didn't tell them who it was, I just played them random cuts from the album. I made sure that in my rounds with various musicians that every song on the album got heard by a seasoned and talented musician. And much to my relief, they loved it. And they were all blown away by the fact that it was Kelly Clarkson. When I told them she wrote it with her touring band, they were all psyched that she wrote it with musicians as opposed to having it all created by production teams. They were amazed that she would do that. Even though it was dogged by non music types, most music publications gave this record a good review. Most of them applauded her for having the guts to go against the grain. So I'm about to put on my headphones and share some of my own thoughts on the songs, as well as some things some of my musician friends had to say about "My December."
1. Never Again -- The first time I heard this song I honestly thought it was Pat Benatar. When I found out it was Kelly Clarkson, I said out loud, "No shit? Right the "F" on." I'm a Pat Benatar fanatic. I know her music inside and out and this song not only brings to mind Pat, but also Pat's husband Neil Geraldoand her entire sound. This is the best homage I've heard to Pat Benatar since No Doubt's "Don't Speak" from 1996. This song would fit really well on the Pat Benatar album "Get Nervous." I would love to see her perform this song with Pat. Niel and Myron (Pat's amazing drummer). This song really kicks in after the first chorus. Every level of this song is vintage Pat Benatar. From the frantic soaring vocals to the intense drum...to THAT VOCAL. Yeah Kelly, f*ck 'em. I get it.
2. One Minute - An award winning female rock vocalist in Portland called the vocal run on this song "brilliant." She loved the intense beat of the song she really loved Kelly's layered vocals. She was one of those who was not only shocked that it was Kelly Clarkson, but was shocked that the album bombed.
3. Hole - Okay, this song is VINTAGE Pat. No shit. This song would have probably been on her first album "In The Heat of the Night." Really people...how can you not hear how brilliant this is? This is a zillion times better than any of that crap those manufactured pop tarts put out.
4. Sober - I hate the title of this song. However, if you really listen to this song, it will take you somewhere. It did for me. It spoke to me when my mother started chemo for the first time. It spoke to me when I went through the process of rectifying my difficult relationship with her and it spoke to me again after I watched her die. Listen to this song. Listen to Kelly sing it. I challenge any other young artist to sing with this kind of conviction. And she will take your breath away when she hits the high note at the end. Again, I hate the title and the use of the word "Sober," but this song is absolutely brilliant. The build up to the high note at the end is amazing. Again, this song got me through the roughest 18 months of my life so I may be a bit biased.
5. Don't Waste Your Time - Listening to this song now, I automatically think of Katy Perry. So she was ahead of her time. Hell yeah, this is a good song. Miley Cyrus would kill to be given a song this good.
6. Judas - She's pissed. And I'm thinking it's not a good idea to mess with Kelly. This is a hard driving song. Again she goes right to the operatic Pat Benatar vocals on the chorus. BUT...it works. Maybe that's what's wrong with this album. When Madonna's last album "Hard Candy" CD came out, one reviewer said, "Madonna made a great Gwen Stefani record." Maybe that's what Kelly did, she made really great Pat Benatar record. Even so, it's a great record.
7. Haunted - I don't like the "scratchy record" beginning. It's a gimmick that's been done too many times. This is another song that would fit on Pat's first album. Again, I hear Pat and Katy on this one, but more so I hear Kelly. This reminds me of vintage "Heart." I'm talking "Crazy On You/Barracuda" days.
8. Be Still - This is where the record hits a brick wall. It's a great song, but it seriously brings the record to a halting stop. Blame this on song order. Who even knows whose job that is? I just know they NEVER get it right. Anyway, this is a nice acoustic song, but it doesn't fit on this record.
9. Maybe - I would LOVE to watch her sing this song live. It's just so beautiful. I love the intensity that builds half way through. And this girl means every word she sings. Her conviction and fearlessness on this record is amazing. This is another favorite of my musician friends. They think it goes a little over the top at the end, but she stays true to it in her vocal. This is one where maybe the producers convinced her to take it too far at the end.
10. How I Feel - This song is pop through and through. It has an 80's "Scandal" groove to it. I could so hear Patty Smyth sing this. Not that I want Kelly to front an 80's band, but it's nice to hear a singer today who knows how to capture that great feel of the 80's rock chicks.
11. Yeah - I don't really get this song. I hate when they divide up instruments into different ears on my headphones. It's distracting. All I can say is, this song makes me think of the relatively unknown artist Kirsten Price. And unfortunately, Kelly doesn't do this justice.
12. Can I Have This Kiss - This song isn't spectacular and it really can't decide if it's pop or rock, but it's catchy enough. I know that a few of my friends LOVE this song.
13. Irvine - This song is a hard listen. The vocal sounds distant. The accompanying guitar sounds accidental. It's empty and it's sad. And it's perfect. This song is more haunting than the song on the album called "Haunting." The only other singer I can equate this to is Sinead O'Connor.
14. Chivas - This is the hidden track on the album. And it has that gritty "bad recording" sound affect on it. It's just Kelly singing with an acoustic guitar. She's pissed but sassy about it. "So much for true love, I'll take the Chivas instead." I love this song. A great hidden track.
Kelly had to make this record. She had to step out and do her own thing before the pop world swallowed her up. She had to prove that she wasn't afraid to take a stand. Not many artists out there today have that kind of courage. I'm proud of her and I love this record. Maybe if a few other younger female artists out there had the courage to make an unapologetic record, we'd have better songs on the radio. This album is as refreshing as Alanis Morrissette's "Jagged Little Pill." It either hit too late or it's ahead of this time. All I know is this is one of the most underrated albums of the last 10 years.