The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

26 October 2011

Stronger : a musical review

A good album has one or all of the following qualities:

  1. A talented vocalist (perfect technique is not what we're going for here; we're talkin' soul-stirring singing from the toes... or at least from some connection to the song)
  2. Good writing - melodically and lyrically
  3. Enough energy to power a person through cleaning bathrooms, mopping floors, sorting socks, attaching Batman's cape yet again
  4. Can't-help-but-belt-it-out-ness (being in  key doesn't matter, it's volume and enthusiasm that counts)
  5. A haunting/emotional/intriguing/addictive something or other that entices you to turn out the lights, put on the headphones, lay on the floor, and listen to it over and over again.

There have been entire albums throughout my musical career (as dedicated listener, not, sadly, as brilliant and successful performer) that met each of those five criteria: Def Leppard's Hysteria was played on average four times a day for an entire year (though more commercial than the albums that came before, this was the first of theirs I owned, and it rocked my world at the time.  I've since come to think that Pyromania is by far the better album); nearly every Depeche Mode release from Construction Time Again to Sounds of the Universe has become a soundtrack to my life; Sarah McLachlan's Fumbling Towards Ecstasy was belted out from behind the wheel of my car on many a long road trip; Blue Rodeo’s What is this love, and Dire Strait’s Brothers in arms were played endlessly while I absorbed every detail of melody and harmony through a very large pair of headphones... there are heaps more, of course, but you get the idea.  

Yesterday I came home with Kelly Clarkson’s Stronger, her fifth album since winning the first season of American Idol.  It almost isn’t fair to bring up the Idol business, because this girl can really sing (not all of the participants  - or even the winners can. Does anyone remember Lee DeWyze?  Not exactly memorable, poor fellow) Miss Kelly, however, has got the chops, the drive, and an interest in a variety music; she’s a natural talent.  Check out her AI ‘Stuff like that there’ and ‘I surrender all’ clips on Youtube; her performances are stunning considering how young and untutored she was at the time.

Stronger may or may not have staying power - I don’t know yet if I will be listening to it every day in a month’s time. Most of the songs are thoroughly pop flavoured, while some have overtones of country, including the duet with Jason Aldean, Don’t you wanna stay, which is a definite belter (I sound exactly like Kelly when I sing it... alone, in a confined space).  There are a few songs that stand out, including one about the mathematics of love (Einstein), another about loving the good and bad about a person even if it isn’t picture perfect (Dark side), a haunting plea for truth (Honestly) – this one might turn out to be my favourite of the 17 songs.

I’ve heard her cover Guns~n~Roses, Cheap Trick, and Aerosmith; she’s performed country songs with Reba; she’s tackled old style country spirituals (treat yourself to Up to the Mountain with Beck on Idol gives back); and she sang Ave Maria for the Pope. I hope that this broad range of musical styles will make it on to her albums in the future.

Kelly's Stronger is a fun album.  It definitely has “enough energy to power a person through cleaning bathrooms, mopping floors, sorting socks, attaching Batman's cape yet again,”  and if you’ve ever imagined yourself to be a superstar, wailing along with the divas, this disc is good for that too.

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