“Stronger,” Kelly Clarkson‘s fifth full-length in nine years, should be arriving at a high point in the pop-rock singer’s career. Her last album, 2009’s “All I Ever Wanted,” bounced back from 2007’s uneven “My December” with the help of super-producers Dr. Luke and Max Martin by spawning hits like “My Life Would Suck Without You” and “I Do Not Hook Up” and giving Clarkson her second No. 1 on the Billboard 200. “All I Ever Wanted” was an impressive rebound, but “Stronger” has not emerged as the victory lap it deserves to be: the album was pushed back multiple times by RCA Records, and first single “Mr. Know It All” has stalled outside on the Hot 100’s Top 20. Meanwhile, Luke and Martin are nowhere to be found on the album credits. Is “Stronger” losing the momentum Clarkson gained with her last album?
Even if “Stronger” lacks the killer radio cuts that have thus far defined Clarkson’s legacy, her latest album is still a sumptuous, tightly paced offering from one of pop music’s greatest singers. Yes, you read that right — Clarkson’s vocal power is still astoundingly effortless, and helps the average songwriting of “Stronger” sound enigmatic. Her voice has also continued to mature since “All I Ever Wanted,” giving an adult voice to these tales of moving on from erratic relationships.
Producers like Greg Kurstin and Toby Gad turn songs like “Dark Side” and “The War Is Over” into beautifully arranged anthems, and while there is some mediocre fare here — looking at you, “Einstein” — “Stronger” develops a steady rhythm that invites multiple listens. If this proves to be a relatively minor album in Clarkson’s career, then it’s a minor album from an artist that has proven her durability.
Which songs on “Stronger” stand up next to Kelly Clarkson’s best work? Here’s our Twitter-length track-by-track review of each song.
You be the judge: What do you think of Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” album? Tweet us your own review at @billboard (using hashtag #bbkelly). The best tweets will be posted on Billboard.com in the coming days.
1. Mr. Know It All – The sassy single is full of righteous declarations — “You like to bring me down, don’t you?/Well, I ain’t going down!” — and an upbeat, gospel-like chorus.
2. What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger) – A guitar riff reminiscent of “Since U Been Gone” segues into an anthem that encourage personal reinvention, and dancing.
3. Dark Side – On this thoughtful mid-tempo track, Clarkson dials back her vocal power on the verses and pleads with a guy to embrace her flaws.
4. Honestly – “Face me, make me, listen to the truth, even if it breaks me,” Clarkson wails on another somber track. She’s on point, but the instrumentation is a bit blase.
5. You Love Me – The intensity ramps up on “You Love Me,” its heavy guitar crashing in on the chorus before the subtle rhythm snaps back into place. An immediate highlight.
6. Einstein – Yes, “Einstein” is fun. Yes, Clarkson sounds spectacular. But the refrain reads, “Dumb plus dumb equals you.” Moving on!
7. Standing In Front of You – The first straight-ahead ballad on “Stronger,” this track delivers a needed breather, and its lilting chorus is as gentle as a warm towel.
8. I Forgive You – “I forgive you, I forgive me/Now when do I start to feel again?” is the album’s most arresting opening line. If only the rest of the song didn’t go through the pop-rock motions.
9. Hello – A slightly more rugged track that finds its groove in the chorus. The handclaps on the bridge are a nice touch — “Hello” is gonna be killer in concert.
10. The War Is Over – Another defiant track marked by its pummeling drums. The lyrics are frustratingly vague — who are you fighting, Kelly, and why?
11. Let Me Down – Clarkson is once again “dumb enough to linger” with a bad boy. Here, the massive chorus swallows the verses whole and invites radio spins.
12. You Can’t Win – Spiky guitar riffs are paired with sone of the album’s most clever lyrics. Why is this buried at Track 12?
13. Breaking Your Own Heart – The album-closing ballad harkens back to the country music components Clarkson explored on “Don’t You Wanna Stay” with Jason Aldean.