Thursday, 3 November 2011

"Female remains famous without knicker flashing" Shock report

 Read this and other reviews of mine over at 
Dooyoo.co.uk  – look out for Charliewhippet


After internet leaks and a delayed launch, it's Kelly's long awaited new album! And there's barely a non-single track among them. 

By now we've all heard the first single Mr Know it All which, in typical Kelly style, admonishes a guy for thinking he knows her when he actually has no clue. (We've all known guys like this, right? I had one tell me that I didn't like children. When I had been running an after-school club and was planning a month working in an African orphanage.) While the lyrics are Kelly personified, the melody and musical stylings are strongly reminiscent of the Bruno Mars hit Just the Way You Are (a fact which hasn't escaped the critics' notice). 

While the song would appear to be aimed at an individual, the video twists this into an attack on the media, with Kelly singing in front of a wall of headlines – which apparently are genuine newspaper articles. 

This blow at the media continues in You Can't Win as Kelly lampoons pretty much every criticism ever levelled at her – and everyone else in the public eye."If you're thin, poor little walking disease; if you're not, they're all screaming obese," and "If you're down; so ungrateful, and if you're happy, why so selfish?"

The second track on the listing carries the oft-repeated message that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Now we're back in familiar Clarkson territory – a pounding beat, singalong chorus, and "Let's get on that treadmill and work out our aggression against the boy who dumped us," feeling. Kelly has hinted that this will be the second single, which both pleases and disappoints me. It’s a cool, catchy pop record which has a positive message and will surely get lots of airplay. However, haven’t we had an awful lot of those songs from Kelly? Wise as it is to stick to the formula that works, it would be nice if the non-album-buying public could hear some of her more thoughtful and multilayered songs. 

One of which is Dark Side – it has a pseudo-spooky beginning like a child's music box, and a downbeat vibe. The lyrics plead that everyone has a dark side; "Can you love mine?" It's Kelly being all heart-rending at her best, and her voice soars effortlessly over the wide vocal range – she truly makes it sound easy. 

This theme continues with Honestly, which has beautiful, gentle opening bars and rises into a somewhat melancholy anthem; "Make me listen to the truth even if it breaks me..... you can judge me, love me, if you’re hating me, do it honestly..." Kelly apparently expects bad news, but is determined to know anyway, as she crashes into a desperate-sounding wave of "You can tell me... you can tell me....you can tell me...." (Say what you like about Kelly, but it’s nice to find a "pop" singer who isn’t afraid to be a bit angsty and raw emotionally.)

Kelly's songwriters drop the ball somewhat on Einstein.. It has a promising start, with a cute first verse:

Simple math
Our love divided by the square root of pride
Multiply your lies plus time
I'm going out of my mind
It was heavy when I finally figured it out alone

You’d be forgiven for thinking "Ah, how clever. A cute, playground style song with in-jokes about Einstein!" But it's almost as if the writer exhausted his / her brain power, turned to the nearest eight-year-old, and said "Hey, I'm all out of ideas. You write the chorus." Seriously? "Dumb plus dumb equals you?" That doesn’t even make sense! OK, so it might be fun for little girl to sing, but for such a quirky idea, this song really falls short of its potential. Luckily it is saved by Kelly's vocals which are dynamic as always.

(It's also worth noting that Directlyrics.com, despite claiming to "guarantee" accuracy in their lists  of lyrics, have misheard this song with bizarre results. "I may not be unstopped"? You’re not exactly Einstein yourself, are you?)

Standing in Front of You is a song about taking the risk of throwing yourself into love rather than staying alone out of fear. Kelly turns it into an etheral, filmic sounding epic which will no doubt make it onto a rom-com soundtrack at some point.

I Forgive You, a bouncy song about the pointlessness of holding the past against someone ("If I hate you, what does that do?") is a little monotonous but is saved by a catchy, 80s-sounding chorus. I have been trying to work out what it reminds me of and have finally settled on Kim Wildes's classic, Kids in America. The retro disco feel continues on You Love Me, which has an electropop sound that brings La Roux to mind. (Which is logical when you consider that they are influenced by Eurythmics, and Kelly has declared herself a big fan of Annie Lennox.  Don’t be fooled by the optimistic title – this is another song about poor Kelly being let down by someone who only claims to love her.
KC has said herself that sonically this is her best album and that it sounds closer to the way she does when singing live. I can attest to this – the vocals sound so rich and textured on this album that after listening to it for a while and then switching to a previous album of hers, her previous (excellent) vocals sounded almost tinny in comparison.

She even sounds a little bit throaty and sexy on Hello, a song which lacks the huge sweeping chorus of some of her other hits but has a nice line in handclaps and a twangy bassline.

Likewise Kelly turns in a rather sultry performance on Let Me Down, yet another song about a man failing her.  With lyrics such as "I think I might be a fortune teller, I read your face just like a letter..." she is soon wailing the chorus as only she can.

Kelly's vocals are never stronger than on The War is Over, a haunting track on which she harmonises with herself, the somewhat low-key verses rising to an empowering finale. 

Crossing genre boundaries as always, the powerful yet silky vocals on Breaking Your Own Heart are as close to country as Kelly gets on the main album. (Please Kelly, release that blues and country album you keep promising us! Forget the teenyboppers who love your pop rock! Your grown-up fans demand Patsy Cline and Black Keys covers!)
If you’ve bought the plain old regular album, this is your lot. However, I recommend that you invest in the deluxe version for some extra treats....

Unfortunately still no duet with Miranda Lambert. Maybe next time? Pretty please?

In the US, country music is big business (although we Brits don’t really have a fanbase for songs about trucks, catfish, and mama, unfortunately. ) On Don’t You Wanna Stay, Kelly teams up with Jason Aldean. (Who? I hear you ask. Well, he has four albumus and plenty of CMA trophies to his name, so if you like a bit of twang in your guitar, Spotify him up right now!) 

Unfortunately if you’re a cynical Brit, this song may be just a touch too glurgy for you. But if you are a secret fan of Magic.fm, you will find plenty to admire in the wistful, minor-key tune and  incredible vocals in this shamelessly romantic song.

Alone is another pop-rocky showcase for Kelly’s throaty vocals and for once, a song with a happy ending! And while the feminist in me rankles at the word "girl" being used pejoratively, the track Don’t Be a Girl About It also made me chuckle to myself. Featuring lines such as "I chose the high road and you chose... to be a girl," it’s tongue-in-cheek enough to get away with it. I actually wish this was on the main album and thus eligible to be released as a single, because it has a ridiculously catchy chorus and is generally a fun, audacious track. 

The Sun Will Rise features Kara DioGuardi, who is a songwriter, singer, ex-judge on American Idol, and record producer. Despite her impressive credentials, I find that her voice detracts from the song rather than improving it – she's just a touch whiny, especially teamed with Miss Clarkson’s clear-as-a-bell efforts. However, it’s nice to end the album on a rare cheerful note (especially if you have been listening to the album in a post-break-up haze of tears). 

All in all, it’s probably KC’s best album yet. However, it’s a travesty that some of her best work doesn’t make the cut. Check out youtube for Why Don’t You Try, an Aretha-esque bluesy number which ONLY appears on the US version of the itunes album. (Which sucks for those of us who have already bought the CD.)  However,  I comfort myself with the knowledge that Kelly is one of those artists who is actually better live than she is when she is overproduced, so the youtube versions are actually superior to the album track. Go figure. 

I leave you with proof that Kelly must not be allowed to do covers of popular artist’s work, because it’s just embarrassing for everyone when her version is the best by about a million miles. Sorry Carrie.

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