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Kelly Clarkson
My December
RCA Records
www.kellyclarkson.com


Kelly Clarkson's third major label release My December is her best offering so far. Produced by David Kahne (The Strokes, The Bangles) and featuring collaborations with bassist/producer Mike Watt (The Stooges, Sonic Youth, Gov't Mule), the album dilutes the bubble gum sugar pop/hip hop derivative a la Britney Spears from Clarkson's debut album Thankful and shows more of Clarkson's hard rock-tinged pop, which was beginning to bud on her sophomore release Breakaway from 2004, with a few shallots of alternative country, folk pop, and orchestral tones tossed into My December. With contemporary female artists like Gwen Stefani and Avril Lavigne resorting to gimmicky pop to appease label executives and audiences, it's amazing that Clarkson held on so tenaciously to what she wanted rather than falling into the pitfall that has sunken many fine artists before her.

Pop/rock has become so diluted in the last 15 years that Clarkson's album actually feels brand new and refreshing, but for those music fans from the '80s who remember Quarterflash, The Motels, Vixen, Scandal, and Pat Benatar, this album is ripe for their liking. And for those younger fans who like Mandy Moore but wished she had more substance in her music and Mindy Smith but want more gusto in the vocal melodies, this album will thrill them. Clarkson has made the album that she was born to make. She is like the female counterpart of Chris Daughtry and Nickelback, and as long as she stays in touch with the music that best expresses her sentiments, she'll outlast her contemporaries and avoid the proverbial pitfalls.

Clarkson wrote many of the lyrics for the album including the song "Sober" which displays the mood and lyrical themes of the album in a nutshell, "And I don't know/ This could break my heart or save me/ Until you let go completely/ So here I go with all my fears weighing on me/ Three months and I'm still sober/ Picked all my weeds but kept the flowers/ But I know it's never really over." The lyrics talk out emotions that got all tangled up in relationships and take on a therapeutic release, but not everything on the album is about undergoing an emotional upheaval and house cleaning. There are a few songs like "Can I Have A Kiss" and "Yeah" which reflect on the positive side about being in a relationship.

There are a few dance rock tracks like "One Minute," "How I Feel," and "Judas" which have strong synth textured guitars imprinting dynamics along the chord progressions and a light buoyant beat supporting the palaver. The pop/rock rustling of the guitar sweeps and the misty vocal choruses on "Haunted" have a melodic combination like Evanescence, and the orchestral tones and feathered string arrangements for songs like "Sober" and "Be Still" form archways along the alternative country pop acoustics. The cool guitar riff opening "Hole" has a Three Doors Down froth in the decibels and the first single from the album "Never Again" has the pop/rock propulsion of Chevalle.

Clarkson's vocals have a similar in pitch to singers like Mandy Moore and Jennifer Paige and has the versatility of Martina McBride and Fall Out Boy's lead singer Patrick Stump. The rambunctious horns on "Yeah" stoke the R&B embers in her vocals while the folk pop acoustics on "Irvine" bring out the Patty Griffin and Mindy Smith country roots textures in her chords. Clarkson is from Burleson, Texas so some country in her pop/rock nuggets makes for good fixings like mesquite spicing on potato chips.

Kelly Clarkson's pop/rock scores on her latest release is what audiences have been waiting for from the multi-Grammy Award winner. It is ironic that MTV News reported that when Clive Davis, the head of RCA Records "played her first single at the (record label's) meetings in Las Vegas, the posts claimed he asked the crowd, 'Does this sound like a #1 single to you?'" As a music consumer, my answer to that question is a resounding "Hell Yeah!!" His remark makes one realization that the music industry isn't losing money because of the public's access to free music downloads, but because of problems with their own judgments about what people like. For Clarkson, the third album is the charm.

-Susan Frances


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