March 5, 2009

Test Spin: Kelly Clarkson

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Disregarding her misguided 2007 My December foray into “serious sounding pop” music, it has been nearly four years since Kelly Clarkson has commanded the airwaves. The singles off her sophomore effort Breakaway were so omnipresent that it’s hard to imagine it’s been this long, as it too is almost unimaginable to call her fourth proper studio release a comeback album. Nevertheless, this in effect is what All I Ever Wanted is, Clarkson’s acknowledgment to the record-buying faithful that she’s ready to return to her strengths of singing straight-ahead pop music.
All of this amounts to a record that, while speaking matter-of-factly, is a career retread for the American Idol alum, is a fairly vivacious pop album that returns to the tenaciously memorable pop hooks of Breakaway while incorporating some interesting formula nuances. The record’s opening sequence of potential singles strictly adheres to the Breakaway template, as lead single “My Life Would Suck Without You,” “Cry” and “Don’t Let Me Stop You” all uncannily share the same melodies of Clarkson’s most successful singles. Likely follow-up single “I Do Not Hook Up” also features a relentless sing-along hook that grabs you and won’t let go, as does album gem “Long Shot,” both of which were originally Katy Perry demos.
Other songs that Clarkson borrows from other artists are the titular track “All I Ever Wanted” and “whyyouwannabringmedown,” defiant pop-rock anthems that Clarkson enthusiastically interprets from Anada. The lamenting “Save You” was originally a demo from the now-disbanded Boston group Gone ’Til November, and poignant album closer “If No One Will Listen” is a cover from Keri Noble’s 2004 album Fearless.
All of this song recycling implies that Clarkson is out of new ideas, and, to a certain extent, this may be true. The Ryan Tedder-produced ballad “Already Gone” bears a striking resemblance to Beyonce’s latest single “Halo” (also produced by Tedder), and album cut “Ready” is a forgettable piece of pop filler that finds Clarkson favoring the same tedious terrain of My December.
Thankfully, these moments are minor grievances, as there are some wonderful delights to be heard throughout this record. New collaborator Ryan Tedder provides Clarkson emotional heft with menacing, synthesized soundscapes on the daring “If I Can’t Have You” and “Impossible,” and Clarkson’s nod to the ’60s doo-wop pop on “I Want You” is surprisingly convincing. In the end, All I Ever Wanted is a pleasurable piece of pop craft that should solidify Clarkson’s reign as the most accomplished American Idol alum. Whereas her previous effort was a dreary, downtrodden affair, her latest record is all I ever wanted from Clarkson: To just have fun.