My December is a clean break

Adam Griffiths

Kelly Clarkson’s third album shows growth, leaves room for more

I can’t completely hate on Kelly Clarkson.

When I reviewed her sophomore album, Breakaway, two years ago, there was a “woman waiting to be awakened in Clarkson,” and I called the album “a stepping stone in the quest to realizing the artist she truly is.”

Her latest album, My December, really is a coming-of-age record. She fought for it to see the light of day, and despite pressure from her management to stay true to her signature sound, Clarkson took a route that can’t be called anything but her own.

Despite the artist-against-the-industry struggle that has surrounded its release, Clarkson’s third album has a definite personality – the little album that could. At times, she hits the spot. With others, it’s better to advance to the next track and hope for the best, but that comes with any album.

There’s no remaining “American Idol” fanfare here. It’s not a totally stripped, barebones and raw musical production, but most of the songs on My December come pretty close for an artist who’s built an empire on pop and pop alone.

But some of the things everyone else is criticized for on their albums, Clarkson seems to think work for her: the sing-song luster of Hilary Duff’s best, the self-deprecation mastered by one, Avril Lavigne. The whole thing is some kind of schizophrenic mess. Clarkson, who wrote the entire album herself, works different shades, sounds and lyrics in an effort to create something to call her own.

“Never Again,” the first single off My December, got people to sit up and pay attention, and the rest of the album takes off from there. “One Minute,” rumored to be the first international single and the next here at home, is rock-hard pop. That said, the second single off the album, “Sober,” is trite, but definitely one of the lyrical wins on an album on which the writing is a saving grace.

Listening to this release is like playing “Duck Hunt” when you’ve got a Wii sitting right next to your NES. You’ve got your blanks: “Don’t Waste Your Time” should be faster, and sounds like “How I Feel,” which recalls the pace and go-get-em’ of Breakaway’s “You Found Me;” the vocals on “Judas” disappoint; and we’ve heard “Hole” done ten times over and ten times better.

But, to be fair and quite honest, there are tracks that satiate the “listeners wanting for more from an unproved artist” that Breakaway lacked. “Be Still” has to be one of the most enjoyable pop ballads in recent memory. It’s mellow, and it has a cool jazz air that ranks with the likes of Norah Jones and John Mayer, but with the adult contemporary lyrical mastery of Sarah McLachlan. Clarkson closes with “Irvine” – reserved, calculated and the best song on the album. With little production, it features her best asset – her voice. After the hidden track “Chivas,” it’s a cliffhanger just like Breakaway: Where will she go next?

All of the reservation aside, fans will likely relate to these songs, which is what any artist can hope to accomplish. And in comparison to the fantasy pumped by her management into Thankful and Breakaway, Clarkson’s lyrics and passion do show maturation and growth. She has evolved as an artist, but not musically. Good music is good music, and My December gives us a lot to take in, think about and look forward to, but nothing to help us digest it and sit tight for the next round.

Contact features correspondent Adam Griffiths at [email protected].

Kelly Clarkson

My December

Released on RCA Records

Stater rating (out of five):3.5