It’s 2017, and here we are writing a not-negative review of Kelly Clarkson.
You could take that to mean something about the general state of the genre this year, especially among the big-hitters, but to be honest Meaning of Life won’t let you to do that. Instead it put its leading lady front and centre; Kelly Clarkson hasn’t changed, she’s aural congeniality, and, well, the world seems a little bit better for it.
Despite the title’s implication, you won’t find any answers to big questions here (more on that later). But as pop goes, there’s a colossal one-two punch opening the record: Love So Soft is so ridiculously easy on the ears and pretty easy pickings too, but in lesser hands (say, for example, rent-a-gob Meghan Trainor) it would have suffered. It’s immediately followed by the assault of Heat, which cranks things up and sees Clarkson match that relentless beat with breathless, breathtaking aplomb.
Whatever your expectation of Kelly Clarkson is, this album gives a massive middle finger to all of them. And that’s where this album seems to shine: Clarkson doesn’t seem to give a flying fuck about what the world around her thinks, seemingly rocking up to the studio, shutting everything out like she is on the cover there, and belting things out purely for her own sake.
Of course, there are the usual eye-rolls: the less we say about the lyrics of Move You the better, and there are the usual ‘strong Southern female’ cliches on Whole Lotta Woman. But Clarkson takes it to church nevertheless, the rasp in her voice sounding both hungry yet satisfied at the same time. She balances light and shade on Medicine and finds her strengths among the pop-soul production of songs like Cruel. It’s a remarkable surprise for pop in 2017; Kelly Clarkson may not give us any great answer to the Meaning of Life, but she certainly provides a solid account of her own.