CD Review of All I Ever Wanted by Kelly Clarkson
Kelly Clarkson: All I Ever Wanted
Recommended if you like
P!nk, Natasha Bedingfield,
Christina Aguilera
Label
RCA
Kelly Clarkson:
All I Ever Wanted

Reviewed by James B. Eldred

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Y
ou knew this was coming, right? Kelly Clarkson spent every bit of her label clout in order to make her last album, My December, even going so far as to publicly spar with the mighty Clive Davis over its moody turn away from the pop candy that turned her into a worldwide superstar – and then December tanked, leaving the music press to gleefully pick over the bones of an aborted tour and awkwardly mismanaged promotional push. For her fourth album, you knew Clarkson had to stick to sunnier, safer material, and on that front, All I Ever Wanted does not disappoint; from its defiantly terrible artwork to its 14 Top 40 gamut-running tracks, this is one of the safest, most thoroughly groomed pop records you’re likely to hear all year.

You’re no doubt aware of this already, as you’ve likely heard Wanted’s leadoff single, "My Life Would Suck Without You," enough times to know it’s a thinly disguised attempt to evoke the zeitgeist-surfing glory of "Since U Been Gone" – and that, as a song, it delivers on roughly a third of the promises made by its quirky title, opting for a bash-you-over-the-head chorus instead of real wit or cleverness. Likewise "I Do Not Hook Up," the loudly unremarkable second track, which dares Clarkson’s brassy pipes to transcend its scatterbrained lyrics ("I do not hook up / I go slow ... This may not last, but this is now / So love the one you’re with") and will surely browbeat pop radio into making it a hit before the end of the year.

Clarkson wrote six of the album’s songs, and although some of them are powerfully lame – like "Cry," a generic ballad just waiting for some faceless female country artist to cover it – others, such as "Ready," which kicks off with a Beach Boys organ, and the cool, slightly skewed "I Want You," make a compelling case for Clarkson ditching her assembly-line co-writers (particularly the loathsome Ryan Tedder) and picking up where her second album left off. Those bright spots are buried, however, in a string of garishly produced up-tempo songs (the shrill, synthy stomp of the title track, the "TRL" throwback "If I Can’t Have You") and vanilla ballads (the glittery prom ballad "Already Gone" and the corn-scented closer "If No One Will Listen," both of which rely on lyrical clichés that would make Jon Bon Jovi cry).

As always, Clarkson makes sure she has room to flex her rock muscle, but Wanted’s louder tracks are some of its weakest. This is partly a function of the album’s overall sound, which is basically a trebly digital mess, and partly a function of the material, which is derivative: "Save You" is a P!nk pastiche, and the Aranda cover "Whyyawannabringmedown" sounds like Pat Benatar by way of Demi Lovato.

It’s a disappointing move, obviously, for a performer who has historically managed to break out of some of the most rigid, least inspiring pigeonholes in the business, from "American Idol" to Clive Davis’ stable of impeccably managed singers – but it’s hard to imagine what else Clarkson could have done at this point. She’s demonstrated that she has a career artist’s long view, and she’s obviously smart enough to understand that if she wants to be able to continue making albums – not to mention getting the kind of push from RCA that she’s hitherto enjoyed – she needs to make concessions like these, just as she did with Breakaway. The difference here, though, is that instead of sounding like she’s having fun playing with the boundaries between genres, Clarkson sounds like she’s trying to anticipate what her audience wants. Fortunately for her, she’s probably guessed correctly often enough to turn All I Ever Wanted into a hit – but these songs lack the personality, and thus the staying power, of her best stuff.

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