It shouldn’t be surprising that Kelly Clarkson’s drifting away from pop-rock. It’s not so much that she has direct competition–people like Demi Lovato have made points of not recording pop-rock, and P!nk’s not recording an album yet. It’s that people want different things from her career, specifically new single “Mr. Know It All.” Some want more titanic powerpop like “My Life Would Suck Without You”; others want anything but All I Ever Wanted and its unsubtle “look see Kelly can be radio-friendly we promise!” 180 from My December. Some just want a hit made for bigger venues than a Microsoft store. And Kelly Clarkson and her team probably mainly hoped nobody would ever hear it until it Ustreamed into the world yesterday afternoon.
Some copy has been made of “Mr. Know It All,” despite containing a confirmed mister, having a message “not just about relationships,” which makes you wonder whether people remember “Breakaway” or have her mixed up with Taylor Swift. Sure, “Mr. Know It All” is empowering enough in a light way that won’t drive away skittish radio. There’s just one problem.
You’ve heard tracks like “Mr. Know It All” before: a prominent midtempo percussion line, buttered by guitars and speckled by piano, that becomes suddenly airy on the chorus. In fact, you’ve heard a track like “Mr. Know It All” not too long ago. It’s “Just The Way You Are,” down to the exact key and drop-off before the chorus. The resemblance is as blatant as that of “Already Gone” and “Halo,” but at least those two had the same songwriter. “Mr. Know It All” was written by a collection of non-Smeezingtons, none of whom apparently heard or cared about the resemblance.
It’s not a bad move to emulate “Just The Way You Are” so closely–the single stormed radio, although as much on its message and Bruno Mars’ charms delivering it than on sound. To Clarkson’s credit–and at this point, the track really needs credit–she sells the song with all her considerable vocal worth, and she sounds punchier and more engaged on the verses than she did on much of All I Ever Wanted. The fault lies with the songwriters, not the vocalist. But really: the Internet knows of at least 20 potential Kelly Clarkson singles and, judging by how they were downloaded and not kept zipped up, took to many of them. Better a fantastic single that leaked than a Bruno Mars retread that didn’t.