Do you need to hear Kelly Clarkson’s Stronger album, which leaked a couple hours ago? Well, really, that depends on how much you like Kells herself—it’s basically most of what you’ve come to expect from the first-ever American Idol winner, with her trademark full-throttle pop/rock sound, themes of love, rejection and perseverance, and super-clean production. If you were a big fan of Breakaway and All I Ever Wanted (and maybe even that weird one in between), chances are pretty good you’ll be a fan of Stronger as well, and we suggest you sniff out a copy ASAP.
But if you’re more of a casual fan or undecided about Clarkson in general, no need to waste precious time and bandwidth finding an album in which you might ultimately have little interest. We’ll hit the high points for you—the ten things you might want to know about the 13 tracks contained on Kelly’s fourth studio album:
1. THE GUYS IN KELLY’S LIFE STILL KIND OF SUCK.
Of the 13 tracks on Stronger, at least eight and possibly as many as ten deal with Kelly being dumped, cheated on, neglected, misunderstood, let down and just generally treated poorly by romantic partners. What’s more, there is no “My Life Would Suck Without You”-type song where love actually inspires feelings that fall in the positive end of the emotional spectrum—the closest she comes are the shreds of romantic hope found in “Standing in Front of You” and “Breaking Your Own Heart”—which when you think about it, is kind of like Beyoncé following up “Crazy in Love” with an album of “Me, Myself and I”s.
2. MAX MARTIN AND DR. LUKE ARE NOWHERE TO BE FOUND ON THE CREDITS…
Remarkably, the producers and songwriters who co-engineered three of Kelly’s all-time biggest hits—”Since U Been Gone,” “Behind These Hazel Eyes” and “My Life Would Suck Without You”—are MIA on Stronger. Give Kelly credit for jumping off the bandwagon everyone else is jumping on, or give Max and Luke the credit for being so in demand they couldn’t pencil in time for their one-time moneymaker.
3. …BUT THEIR FINGERPRINTS ARE STILL ALL OVER THE RECORD.
Give the average informed pop listener a spin through “I Forgive You” and “You Can’t Win” and they’ll undoubtedly guess that Max and Luke were the knob-twiddlers behind them—both songs boast the kind of streamlined production, compact hooks and burst-out energy that the duo perfected with Kelly over the course of their handful of collaborations.
4. THERE’S DANCE GROOVES TO BE HAD.
Not to say that “What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger)” or “Dark Side” would necessarily go over well at a club on a Saturday night, but there’s definite disco influences on both, with the kind of synth-heavy sound and pounding four/four beats that that would imply—even if they’re a little laid back in tempo to inspire much fist-pumping. It’s a nice fit for Kelly, and both songs are among the album’s best.
5. THERE’S ALSO HANDCLAPS, BENDY SYNTHS AND THAT AWESOME AIRY KEBOARD SOUND THAT KEEPS SHOWING UP IN POP.
You know the one we mean—you can hear it in Wiz Khalifa’s “The Race,” Linkin Park’s “Shadow of the Day,” even underground favorites Destroyer’s “Bay of Pigs,” and now you can hear it Kelly’s “You Can’t Win” as well. The other two are in “Hello” and “I Forgive You,” respectively, and they are more than welcome additions to pretty good songs.
6. THE OPENING LYRICS TO “LET ME DOWN” ARE UNCONSCIONABLY BAD…
“I think I might be a fortune teller / I read your face just like a letter.”
7. …BUT THE CHORUS TO “EINSTEIN” IS WAY, WAY WORSE.
“And I may not be Einstein / But I know dumb plus dumb equals you.” (Seriously. We had five minutes’ worth of “She didn’t really just say that?…” deliberation in the office before we had to own up to the awful truth.)
8. “YOU LOVE ME” IS PROBABLY THE BEST SONG.
It’s been true in pop music for the entirety of the 21st century—when in doubt, look to the ’80s for guidance. “You Love Me” has the drama, hookiness and light, echo-y production of a great John Hughes-era torch song. And don’t worry—despite the title, it’s still a bummer of a love song. (It’s as in, “You just made my cry by claiming that you love me.”)
9. PEREZ HILTON IS NOT A FAN.
That’s right: The guy who thinks that Lady Gaga walks on water and that every new Katy Perry song and video is a transmission from the heavens actually has something negative to say about the new Kelly Clarkson album. Tweets ‘Rez:
If you’re a female pop star and you can’t even get Perez on your side…it’s not a great sign.
10. NO MATTER WHAT, HER VOICE IS STILL AWESOME.
Whether ballads like “Honestly” or “Breaking Your Own Heart” or more upbeat numbers like “You Love Me” or “I Forgive You,” Kelly’s instrument is still a sound to behold, scaling vocal and emotional heights the likes of which few except her have been able to reach since she burst on the scene almost a decade ago. It might not be as stunning as it used to be, but it’s certainly still worth mentioning.