BY CHARLES FERN
Kelly Clarkson has been a major pop star for 15 years and she just released what she has called the album she always wanted to make.
While it may not be her best work, “Meaning of Life” does deliver some good tunes that will please old and new fans.
The word soulful has been used many times to describe this album. While this does have some truth to it, there are still many elements of the pop rock style Clarkson is known for.
The lead single “Love So Soft” summarizes the album quite well. It has soul-like instrumentation and vocals, but still has a pop hook. The simultaneous feeling of old and new is welcome, but it does not evoke classic soul music as much as she probably wants it to.
Some better examples of soul are provided with “Heat” and “Medicine.” These songs are raucous and catchy, with call-and-response background vocals and funky production dominating both songs.
Clarkson sounds like she is a having a ball on these songs, which makes them a joy to listen to.
The album’s highlight is “Whole Lotta Woman.” This track talks about how Texas women do things. The lyrics to this track are humorous, containing references to pots full of grits and warm biscuits on a Sunday morning.
Clarkson’s vocal displays the classic confidence mentioned in the lyrics. The track also features members of the band Earth, Wind, and Fire, which is icing on the cake.
She also delivers some strong ballads on the album. The highlight of these is “Move You,” which has beautiful lyrics, a tender vocal from Clarkson, and even a gospel choir. The choir is not overpowering, but the song is still effective.
Other standout tracks include the sultry “Slow Dance” and the album closer “Go High.” Both of these tracks have different intentions, but they show the versatility of Clarkson’s voice.
Clarkson’s voice is just as powerful as ever and while she does not jump octaves as often as Christina Aguilera, there is no denying that she can convey just about any song she desires.
Clarkson also knows that subtlety can be a useful tool in sending a powerful message, and this helps make the music have more of an impact on the listener.
The album has been described as a return to Clarkson’s roots. This makes sense, as she got her start singing Aretha Franklin songs on “American Idol.”
Interestingly, Clarkson is returning to these roots on Atlantic Records, which housed soul artists like Franklin and Ray Charles.
“Meaning of Life” does not stack up to classic Atlantic recordings from Franklin. However, it is great to hear Clarkson sounding so inspired and full of life.
The songs on “Meaning of Life” are not quite as exciting as Clarkson’s previous hits like “Since U Been Gone” and “My Life Would Suck Without You.” Songs like those are what she does best, and the album would benefit from a moment along those lines.
This album is a solid if slightly uneven effort. This can be said of most of Clarkson’s albums. “Meaning of Life” certainly will not hurt her, but her true masterpiece is still waiting to be unearthed.
The Flyer gives “Meaning of Life” a 7 out of 10.