The First Lady of American Idol has returned with her fifth studio album “Stronger,” inspired by the popular quote “That which does not kill us makes us stronger” by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Apparently, “Stronger” has a defined concept unlike Kelly’s previous releases. It’s about strength and empowerment, and each track was recorded on that basis. I think it’s great to have a story being told when it comes to recording an album and even though she stated there wasn’t, I felt that “Breakaway” had a distinctive concept as well: love, heartbreak, and growth. It’s also a pleasure to have the singer back on the scene but sometimes her new music isn’t as pleasant. I’m referring to her last album, “All I Ever Wanted.” Let’s just say I only enjoyed five of the fourteen tracks, simply because the rest sounded like a drag. I’ve been following this starlet since her debut and I think that only a real fan can comfortably say that her music hasn’t always been impressive. Hopefully, “Stronger” can pick up where “Breakaway” left off.
Things start off with the ‘don’t care what you think of me’ anthem, “Mr. Know It All.” What I liked about this song when I first heard it is how calm yet in your face Kelly sounded on it. She’s definitely saying something and the song made people listen. It’s not as powerful but it’s still a good first single and I like the message behind it. The words are played out in the video and that was an awesome idea. Over the years the singer has dealt with rumors about her career, weight and sexual orientation, and this track is the perfect way to say ‘go to hell’ I’m strong enough to rise above it all.
“What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger)” is more on the pop/dance side. I love the opening melody and how soothing her vocals are. The chorus is electrifying and heart pumping. As the title track you’d expect it to be all about being fierce and that’s exactly what it’s about, strength. We’ll only hurt for a while, but with strength comes endurance and we’ll make it through with that alone. This is a very encouraging song to listen when you’re drowned in sorrow.
I love the music box playing at the beginning of “Dark Side.” The song’s accepting your self and being nothing but that in a relationship. We all have to be honest and open with the ones we love and one can only hope they’ll understand and accept us for who we are because no one’s perfect. And that I think it’s the main purpose of this track, nobody’s perfect so don’t be ashamed or afraid to show your real self. I think this is the song that woke up the intensity lacking so far. There’s more rock heard in the chorus while the verses are a bit overpowered by pop. However, it’s still a lovely song.
“Honestly” is the first ballad on the album and one of the more captivating ones. Again, the message is about coming real without pretense; opening up your heart in the relationship and whatever happens have the courage to face each other and speak the truth. I love how emotional she is but Kelly sounds like she’s holding back rather than going all the way and releasing that fire we’re used to hearing. Those screams echoing in the background should be heard not faded out. I can’t comprehend just why the singer would confine herself on a record that depicts so much growth. However, this is my ultimate favorite on the album because of how deep the words are.
“You Love Me” seems like the end result from building up anger, and that’s an understatement when it comes to Kelly’s signature style. You can clearly identify the 80’s pop influence right off the bat. The song’s about loving someone so much but not being their every thing. It seems like he’s trying to show her some appreciation but at the same time he doesn’t try hard enough. I’m also getting that he doesn’t take responsibility for his own actions in the relationship, but blaming her instead. I like how catchy the song is and I can definitely see myself jamming to it, but it’s not exactly memorable.
“Einstein” let’s us know she’s over the relationship and all the issues. It’s her closing statement to the previous track and it only unleashes her distress even further. And who wouldn’t be upset? The guy even had the nerve to flirt with the girl in front of Kelly and that’s just low down despicable. Aside from the bitterness, I love the mellow pop/r&b sound on this track. The music is tamed a little but the proof of her disgust glows from the lyrics.
After all the overwhelming ‘I’m mad at you’ tracks previously played, it’s a relief to hear Kelly singing about actually being in a relationship filled with love and no drama. “Standing In Front of You” is just sweet and pure, with no sign of resentment or hurt in the midst. It’s another ballad but again, it still sounds like the singing is controlling herself instead of just letting it all out and allow the passion to take over. Nonetheless, I like the old school “I Wanna Know What Love Is” vibe I get from the track and how pure the words are. It’s about reassurance; making that special person know that you’ll be their comforter and all they’re searching for is staring right at them.
“I Forgive You” is a reinforcement of the positivity currently blooming on the album. It also picks up the energy I’ve been listening for. The song’s about moving on from the hurt and forgiving each other. It’s never a good thing to continue living with hate in your heart because the only one you hurt is yourself so, it’s always a beautiful thing to forgive and forget in order to find love and peace again. Such a wonderful concept and the beat makes it even more fun and cheerful.
“Hello’s” lyrics contradict the actual beat. The song’s about loneliness and not having someone to love after the difficult break-up of the previous relationship, yet the music is rock, upbeat and exciting. You kind of feel bad that she’s down but at the same time you can’t help but feel like dancing along to the beat.
Just when I thought her emotions were floating away from angry and bitter to a more optimistic vibe, Kelly plunges back into the drama a bad relationship has to offer. “The War Is Over” depicts the dilemma she’s facing; it’s time to end it because things just aren’t going right, but her heart keeps letting the guy back in so she just can’t walk away. You can’t say it’s ironic that this comes after the two previous because there’s in fact a story being told here, instead, you can appreciate how interesting it is after she unravels each chapter. I love this song as much as ‘Honestly.’ There’s something very touching about the words and the way in which every single piece of instrument is utilized. It’s a rock ballad for the sorrowful.
“Let Me Down” is about the disappointments in the relationship and she’s just tired of it. One begins to wonder why she doesn’t just end it once and for all, putting a halt to this back and forth. While the beat is sounding weirdly good, the words don’t come off as believable as it could possibly be and sadly this is sounding too familiar now. Regardless of her just singing without blowing away, I can still attest to the fact that there’s more effort coming forth in the final six altogether.
Kelly continues her confrontation with the media in “You Can’t Win.” This song goes further beyond the more sustainable ‘Mr. Know It All.’ She sings about the hypocrisy of it all; unable to please no matter which route she takes. It’s absurd how people think they can control your life and tell you the kind of image they want you to portray. Well, this singer is not going to conform in order to fit the mold. She’s advocating her freedom and the right to live the way she sees wants to, ‘cause after all, you’re not going to be able to satisfy everyone’s desires of you, there’s always going to be something up for discussion. But in the end, it’s nobody’s business but your own.
“Breaking Your Own Heart” is the closest thing you’ll get to a country rock sound from Kelly on this album. This is like a “Cry” part II; a more sincere and noteworthy track. Kelly’s voice pierces the heart, while the sad guitar melodies burn like fire on the skin. The song’s about burying yourself in misery even though you have the chance of being surrounded by love and happiness. In my opinion, it’s fear that prevents people from falling in love, especially when hurt before. But who wants to be lonely and unhappy forever? Not even Kelly Clarkson. It’s a sensual track and as painful as it is, this is the one song that’d be stuck on replay for a while. The album concludes with this gem, and it’s the best decision ever.
I’m left with mixed feelings about “Stronger.” The album fuses pop, dance, rock, and country together, but neither element could hide the truth, that it’s not that amazing of a release. I was expecting the wow factor after two disappointments but unfortunately, this record will be forgotten like its predecessors. Overall, it wasn’t a bad effort, but it wasn’t that good either. She didn’t sing her heart out enough for me. A few aspects that deserve recognition is the lyrical quality and the fact that the music didn’t sound generic or borrowed. With only four exceptions, “Stronger” just wasn’t as strong as I’d hoped. The album gets a rating of 4.7/5
Track listing:01. Mr. Know It All 02. What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger) 03. Dark Side 04. Honestly 05. You Love Me 06. Einstein 07. Standing In Front Of You 08. I Forgive You 09. Hello 10. The War Is Over 11. Let Me Down 12. You Can’t Win 13. Breaking Your Own Heart
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