Kelly Clarkson: Breakaway Album Review

Clarkson showed up to idol auditions in muted makeup and a kitschy denim dress she’d made by sewing together old jeans. Whatever she lacked in glamour, she made up for it with her balanced, masterful renditions of Etta James’ “At Last” and Madonna’s “Express Yourself” and her easy-going humor. She joked with the judges and switched places with Randy Jackson, who got on one knee for his “audition” and sang R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly.” Until idols resident British bastard, Simon Cowell, this stunt was the only memorable thing about her; he initially wrote Clarkson off as “just a girl with a good voice.” But she continued to make progress, round after round, and by the time 10,000 hopefuls had sifted through one, Cowell had come to appreciate her “normality.”

In the course of idolIn its debut season, tens of millions called the show’s toll-free number, including Natalie Maines of the Chicks, who ended up voting for Clarkson five times, later stating, “I knew from the first episode that Kelly was the best one out there.” The contest program ushered in a reality TV explosion and ushered in the social media era where millions of fans can push a nobody to viral fame with the click of their phones.By season two, it had partnered with AT&T to launch a new voice format, which accelerated the rise of SMS.

But winning a popular election does not guarantee that you will be consistent or convincing. From the outset, critics identified the tendency for shows like idol to produce technically proficient but tasteless winners, those who “would never hesitate to chat seven notes where one would suffice”, as a New York Times writer described. Clarkson’s last track and debut single was “A Moment Like This,” one of those syrupy, awe-inspiring ballads along the lines of “I Will Always Love You” that treats love as a sort of transcendent bliss. (It reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts and was featured in gauzy, libidinous ads for Sandals Resorts.) Her debut, Satisfying, did not challenge expectations. With the exception of tracks like “Miss Independent” – a gritty R&B pop single originally written for Christina Aguilera – it was a pretty uninspired attempt at pop gospel. Clarkson didn’t want to lock her up idol reputation though: “I want to record an album with personality…I like ballads, but I also want my albums to rock.”

So for her follow up, she messed up her hair, brushed off her eyeliner, and practiced her withering look. Break away takes advantage of the kind of gut-wrenching pop rock formed by Alanis Morissette in the 1990s and Avril Lavigne in the early 2000s. Lavigne’s debut, 2002’s Let go helped me send pop in a spiker, and she borrowed Clarkson breakaways title track. Clarkson is brassy and bitter, burning men who have wronged her, striding over the scorched earth. “Your eyes are twinkling / That’s all changed, in lies that fall like acid rain,” she buzzes with “Gone,” whose abrupt, smashed guitars are like heel stomping. On the funky, irresistible “Walk Away,” she roasts a dude for being so trembling incompetent that he relies on his mom, his brother, everyone else to tell him what he wants. “I seek attention, not one more question,” Clarkson snaps. In other words, shut up and stop wasting my time.

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