If we are to believe everything we read, we are supposed to hate My December the third album from Kelly Clarkson, even though most of us have yet to even hear the darn thing. After all, it’s been publicly dissed by Clive Davis, head of Clarkson’s label, yielded a luke warm single, generated a plethora of tabloid headlines and subsequent firings of members of “Team Clarkson.”
This sort of public flogging is the usual response when a female artist branches out in a new direction. Christina Aguilera’s Stripped received a similar reaction when it was first released. Each time Madonna dons a new hat the press lines up to take shots at her. So Kelly must have known this was coming. The hubbub surrounding the album has erased the big question on everybody’s mind – “Is it any good?”
It’s better than good. In fact, it’s Clarkson’s most consistent and adult release to date. Is it jam packed with upbeat, catchy ditties filled with hooks? No, but I’ll get to that in a moment. The main complaint from Clive & Co. has been that My December has no singles.
Despite the abrasive first single “Never Again,” My December has tangible radio-friendly songs. “One Minute” is a rocking, Garbage-esque ode to a fellow who can’t make up his mind, and that seems like a natural hit. “How I Feel” is an infectious, upbeat, new wave-infused ditty that fondly recalls the days of Pat Benatar and Patty Smyth, without feeling stale. And any teen drama worth it’s salt would snatch up “Don’t Waste Your Time” or the heart-wrenching “Be Still” for the dramatic montage of the week.
The second single “Sober” delivers Clarkson’s first non-adult contemporary ballad and does so brilliantly. The sappy production values that weighed Breakaway down have been ditched for a sparse, raw sound. Producer David Kahne, no stranger to rocker chicks having produced songs for Stevie Nicks, Regina Spektor, and The Bangles, among others, seems well matched with Kelly’s powerful voice.
Thematically, nearly every song represents the classic “girl scorned” lyrics that any graduate from “Alanis University” can churn out. Somebody has hurt our little Idol and she’s pissed. The only problem is her writing tends to repeat the same sentiment. She’s passed on lyrics from hit makers like Max Martin in favor of going at it alone. While her ambition is risky and admirable it doesn’t always produce great songs.
For example, “Hole” and “Judas” are two extremely ticked off laments that are too similar in lyrical content, bogging down the diversity of the record. Also, some of her journal-like lyrics, although confessional, aren’t exactly the thing you’ll find yourself humming in the shower. This is a minor complaint, however.
The main achievement of My December is that listeners are finally given an honest peak into the life of the singer once crowned American Idol. The album’s final track “Irvine” is a revelation. Sang in a higher register, the song paints a beautiful and heartbreaking picture of a girl who feels isolated and alone. It’s a showstopper and proof positive that this is an artist who is evolving.
he world fell in love with Clarkson because of her what-you-see-is-what-you-get personality and her amazing voice. So it’s ironic that we would expect her to just smile, look pretty, and sing pop songs. My December is a testament to standing ones ground, staying strong in the face of adversity, and being honest, consequences be damned. Which, to me, makes for a compelling listen from a fascinating artist who’s only just begun ruffling feathers.
8 out of 10