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Tuesday, July 3, 2007

My December

(Posted a bit early in honor of the holiday :))

I am an unabashed Kelly Clarkson fan. I marked the date of the release of her 3rd album, My December, on my work calendar and bought it that day. I think her voice is powerful and unique. I was eagerly anticipating this CD, especially because it’s already made so many headlines. The album itself is almost disappointing, but I think her voice transcends the mediocre music she’s singing. And there are a couple of startlingly beautiful singles, which are definitely worth a listen.

The first released single, “Never Again,” is a bitter but catchy song, full of threats and ill wishes: “I hope the ring you gave her turns her finger green,” “You’ll die together but alone.” This girl is pissed. It’s a song driven by hard bass and drums, full of rage and spite, which is obviously a departure from her previous CDs but nothing particularly shocking to my ears. The overt theme of the album is Woman Scorned; it should really be the subtitle.

On the techno-pop track, “One Minute,” Clarkson sings about how things change quickly in a relationship. This is a new sound for her, but I’m not sure it works. The impression this song leaves isn’t long-lasting. “Hole” sounds a bit too much like “Never Again” for me. It features amateur lyrics and weak segues, but her high belt is really unparalleled when she sings “I can feel it/It’s all wrong/I’m so sick of this.”

“Sober,” however, is simply stunning. It snuck up on me the first time I heard it, making me cry on a subway platform and giving me chills in 90 degree weather. She sings of not being sure who she is or if she’ll survive without him in the aftermath of a breakup, “I could crash and burn but maybe at the end of this road, I might catch a glimpse of me.” In this somber song, a bass tin drum beats forebodingly in the background and she sings at a low boil until she explodes in a literal wail, singing “three months” like an obsessive reminder, a mantra that is failing her.

After such a gorgeous, effective song, the next few are a letdown. The album in general feels a little bit like Clarkson wrote a bunch of songs and they just recorded them and threw them together, slipshod. Still, she’s a gifted singer, and the way she plays with the melody of “Judas” makes the song even sadder. And who doesn’t feel her on these lyrics? “Forgetting me, you took things in your hands and left me out/After we’d been through so much, how could you let me down?” The beginning of “Haunted” sounds like the instrumentation at the doomed end of an Eminem song. The track is reminiscent of Evanescence’s “Bring Me to Life,” and ends with Clarkson chillingly whispering “You were smiling” over and over, on the verge of a meltdown. “Be Still” is a bit more of a sweet song, where Clarkson remembers the good ol’ days, “Before we lost hope/when we still touched and love wasn’t so hard.”

Conversely, “Maybe” looks into the possibilities of reconnecting in the future. She bravely sings of her stubbornness and the mistakes she’s made. This isn’t an album full of “Woe is me” sentiment, “Yeah, I’m hard and life with me is never easy to figure out.” It begins with just acoustic guitar and drums but eventually intensifies and keeps getting harder, “I don’t want to be tough and I don’t want to be proud/I don’t need to be fixed and I certainly don’t need to be found/I’m not lost.” She seems to be gaining clarity as the song resolves, wondering if one day they’ll meet and understand each other finally.

On “How I Feel,” Clarkson sounds alternatively like Gwen Stefani, as she vocally scoops to and from notes, and Pat Benatar, when she growls. Here, she’s singing about how all the good men she meets are married with babies, how babies are everywhere, and how she’s sick of hearing about everyone’s wonderful life. Aren’t we all?

“Yeah” is an old, brassy, soulful song, backed by a chorus of girls. It has a spoken word interlude that reminds me of Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner” and features a key change that enlivens this otherwise unexciting song.

The melody of “Can I Have a Kiss” is just a tad too sharp throughout the song. It sits funny. Perhaps that’s to suggest a lack of resolution, a pleading, but I just think it sounds unsettling. The lyrics here are also brave; she admits being a mess and that she’s still working on herself and being able to commit.

The final track on the album, “Irvine,” is the furthest departure from the Clarkson with whom we’re all familiar. A guitar strums and this ethereal echo nearly whispers the lyrics. I read this song described as “near suicidal,” and it’s true. “Why is it so hard?/Why can’t you just take me?/I don’t have much to go/Before I fade completely.” It’s a send up to the gods to save her, and the result is haunting and evocative.

The “Deluxe Edition” of My December on iTunes also includes a hidden track after “Irvine,” a bonus track, and two remixes of “Never Again.” It’s certainly chockfull. Too bad it’s not her best. But you should certainly invest in “Sober” the single.

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