It’s been a while since I reviewed an album (if you haven’t read it, it’s here), I reckon this is the perfect time to do a new one considering my blog has recently been given a fresh facelift and at hand, we have an album from my all time favourite artist.
Words & Picture: Oliver @oliverinstead
Piece By Piece is Kelly Clarkson‘s 7th studio album and her first in almost four years! Since releasing Stronger in 2011, she has got married, released a Christmas album and given birth to a gorgeous baby girl, River Rose. It was released earlier this month but my copy took a while to deliver as I pre-ordered the limited edition box set from the official website so it arrived at my doorstep all the way from the US. 😉
Before playing the CD, I read through the leaflet and straightaway the lack of writing credits from the American Idol champ herself caught my attention. In fact, ever since the fall out with her label back in the My December era, she’s been producing noticeably less and less of her own materials… Not until this album did I realise a serious shortcoming in Clarkson’s repertoire. This is reflected in her music sounding kind of samey-samey this time around. It’s especially apparent now that she’s decided to ditch her signature Rock spunk for a full-on mainstream Pop sound, where she seems to have lost her edge and like a fish out of water… However, those moments when she experiments with unexpected collaborators, like in the stately Matthew Koma-penned track definitely still carry enough excitement value to keep me as a fan.
Someone is one of my favourite tracks on the album – I suspect it might not be everyone’s cup of tea as it’s not particularly exhilarating in any sense, and really it’s the somberness that really draws me in more than anything. As far as power ballads are concerned, this is the most contemporary I’ve heard from KC since the infamous Already Gone. Similarly controversial is the John Legend duet Run Run Run, initially claimed by German Rock band Tokio Hotel to be their own work until Clarkson pointed out that the band was in fact NOT credited in the demo she received from the actual writers… sehr awkward.
The song itself is beautiful, definitely trounces the “original”… It starts off slow and melow with some of the most impressive harmony I’ve ever heard, then builds up to a massively dramatic and flawlessly executed finale of stormy drum and guitar line matched by Clarkson and Legend’s stunning high notes and vibratos. This would serve as a more than rightful successor to the Jason Aldean-assisted Don’t You Wanna Stay.
As an act to reinvent oneself, this era Clarkson dips her toe into EDM, producing a riot of a track like War Paint that offers great danceable eletro beats with uncomprising lyrics that sing about embracing your most raw and true self – a familiar territory for the Texan powerhouse.
Whereas I feel the outcome with Take You High has left loads to be desired. To say I’m not a fan of the production is an understatement. 10/10 for her efforts to try different things but littering the inspired Gospel ting with out-of-place, confused synth breakdown is a embarrassingly desperate attempt.
Though Piece By Piece may not be Clarkson’s most successfully varietous project, one department wherein it delivers is the emotion, in spades. The title track for example, is a follow-up to her 2005 hit Because of You. It yet again calls out the singer’s irresponsible father for abandoning her at the innocent age of six but come the chorus, the story takes a positive turn as with every word she belts, we feel the unconditional, healing love of her hubby. Talk about silver linings!!
Another powerful track filled with passion and intensity is Invincible, co-written by Sia. Although it wouldn’t have been my choice of a second single, this empowering anthem that exclaims /I was so afraid, I felt so unsure/Now I am invincible/ challenges the music industry and perfectly embodies the ‘survivor’ exterior Clarkson is known for.
In contrast, Tightrope and Good Goes the Bye both present a sadder note graced with utmost purity and vulnerability of Clarkson’s vocals. The former is one of my personal highlights, the gentle piano and strings make a nice change from the big productions we hear on most of this album,
whilst the latter draws the album to a close with a steady beat and a lot of courage and wisdom in getting over a breakup.
Finally, I couldn’t wrap up this review without mentioning this deluxe bonus track, In the Blue. The one track that I wish had been included in the standard album… It’s such a catchy ballad with seriously spot on vocals and addictive beats on offer!!
I have no idea how they let this one slip.
Vocally, this is without a doubt Clarkson’s best performance. The progress is obvious. There are little to no imperfections in her voice to be heard – she has truly mastered her craft. Despite that, I’m not holding out for another Grammy solely because I don’t believe the materials are deserving enough… Piece By Piece is not the best representation of her well-rounded talent. In parts, the album almost sounds like a collection of leftovers from her past albums… By all means, keep an open mind when listening to the album. Throw away any impressions you’ve ever gathered of the chart-topper should help understanding the direction she’s exploring in the album.