There’s no denying that Kelly Clarkson’s name alone evokes a sense of nostalgia. She became the first winner of hit TV show “American Idol” before creating the iconic break-up song, “Since You’ve Been Gone.” Clarkson has effectively left her footprint on the landscape of pop music and culture. However, being in the music scene for as long as she has comes with its challenges. For instance, how many “American Idol” winners still maintain their relevancy? It seems like Clarkson is the last one standing, and though she hasn’t gotten a hold of her celebrity since the “Since You’ve Been Gone” stage, her eighth studio album, “Meaning of Life,” is a testament to why she is still a force to be reckoned with.
The “Because of You” singer has recently finished her contract with RCA Records, finding a new home at Atlantic. “Meaning of Life” is her first album with the recording company and what a way to start anew. Clarkson has shed her former sound for a soulful, R&B-influenced album, and she has never sounded better. The contemporary R&B sound complements her gravelly vocals, evoking more of the emotion that she is capable of conveying. She even experiments with distorted vocals and looped hooks, giving her sound a fresh and modern feel fit for modern radio.
“Sometimes I need a minute that’s my own / I need a minute in my zone / Where I can say what I want,” sings Clarkson on the opening track, “A Minute (Intro).” The album functions as her desired zone, providing the space to freely express the past hardships with music producer and husband, Brandon Blackstock. This relationship and its dynamics are the main highlights of the album. “Love So Soft,” the lead single of the album, offers playful lyrics that adorn the funky bass line in a cute and mischievous way, singing “If a thought was the truth / We’d be doin’ all the kind of things I know you wanna do,” highlighting Clarkson’s flirtatious side, which is something she doesn’t show very often.
Clarkson finds empowerment in her country-inspired song “Whole Lotta Woman,” where she bursts with southern charm that shines in her singing, “I’m hotter than your mama’s supper, boy” and “I ain’t no girl, I’m a boss with orders.” The song exuberates a newfound confidence that finds her sounding more courageous than before. Sassy backup singers, snaps and upbeat horn section create an overall infectious rhythm fit for dancing.
Other songs on the album such as “Move You” and “Cruel” are reminders of Clarkson’s powerhouse vocals. In “Move You,” she sings about wanting to have a positive impact on someone, and in “Cruel,” she’s pleading for her lover to not hurt her because it’s taking all that she’s got to love him. Her vocal control is displayed when she effortlessly sings in her solid chest voice to her perfectly pitched falsettos. But Clarkson’s capability in expressing raw emotion in her voice are what makes these songs hauntingly beautiful.
Verdict: Clarkson’s reinvented sound has demonstrated her ability to be a dynamic artist. There is something liberating about this album, as if she was waiting her whole life to break free from the pop sound she’s best known for. It’s safe to say Clarkson has finally found her voice in the soul and R&B genre.
Best Tracks: “Love So Soft,” “Move You,” “Whole Lotta Woman,” “Cruel”