Kelly Clarkson boasts one of the most extensive pop-rock careers in modern music. She has had continuous success for 15 years and is the voice behind the soundtrack of everyone’s childhood, with hits like “Since U Been Gone” and “Behind These Hazel Eyes.” However, few pop fans are aware of the struggles Clarkson faced with RCA, her former label. She was stuck in a pop contract with RCA for an astonishing 15 years and spoke out many times when her label was forcing her in a musical direction that she did not want to go.
In her new album, “Meaning of Life,” Clarkson shows what she is capable of when she is not forced to produce cookie-cutter pop music. Signed to a new record label, Atlantic Records, she explores a more soulful sound, adding a horn section to many of her songs, but is also successful in keeping her sound modern. She does this by experimenting with electronic influences in songs like “Didn’t I” and “Would You Call That Love,” and showcasing her huge voice throughout the album. “I wanted to make a record that I could really sing the [expletive] out of,” Clarkson told The New York Times recently. This is clear on “Meaning of Life;” she shows that her voice has completely recovered from her two pregnancies, and seems comfortable in her low range and head voice, two parts of her range that she has never resided in much before. In fact, with this album, Clarkson has made a clear bid for the next Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Album, an award she has won twice before. She easily belts through “Love So Soft” and title track “Meaning of Life,” better than almost anyone else in American pop today could.
One criticism Clarkson has often received for her albums is that they contain too much filler content. This means that some of her songs have been disregarded for not contributing to the overall experience of the album they appear on. “Meaning of Life,” however, remains engaging almost all the way through; the first 11 tracks all work well together, presenting an exciting new layer to Clarkson’s sassy, soulful transformation. For example, “Whole Lotta Woman” is a horn-heavy anthem about confidence, while “Move You” is mature, meaningful pop balladry. The last few songs on the album are the weakest, though; they mostly show what she has already done on the album, or are reminiscent of her old music, and therefore don’t fit on the new album.
For the most part, “Meaning of Life” is a stark departure from Clarkson’s previous albums. Gone are the simple sing-along pop choruses of “Since You Been Gone,” “My Life Would Suck Without You,” or “Breakaway;” on the new album, the biggest moments often happen during the bridges or verses and are elevated by her powerful vocals. Clarkson is like a horse set free on “Meaning of Life;” finally able to experiment with her own sound, she has gone in an interesting direction that fans are sure to enjoy. “Meaning of Life” is not a perfect album, but it’s worth a listen to see the new directions Clarkson is taking.
Essential Songs: “Meaning of Life,” “Didn’t I,” “Move You,” “Love So Soft”