On Tuesday (March 3), Kelly Clarkson released Piece by Piece, her brand-new studio album, featuring the hit single “Heartbeat Song.” We already gave it three-and-a-half stars out of five, but what is the rest of the critical world saying about it?
So far, the aggregator Metacritic has tracked an average score of 63 out of 100 (based on 11 critical reviews), which amounts to what we’d call “mixed.” So what’s working and what’s not? Here is what critics are saying about Clarkson’s latest:
For The New York Times, Jon Pareles gave a mixed review, seeming a little overwhelmed by the album’s bombast. “Every song aims for the monumental, a strategy that’s competitive for radio play but wearying over the course of a whole album,” he writes. He praises her for staying “combative” on “Heartbeat Song” and by skewering her deadbeat father on the title track, but concludes those moments are too few and far between.
All Music‘s three-out-of-five-star review lamented Clarkson’s lessened role as a songwriter this time around, pointing out she received significantly fewer credits than on 2011’s Stronger. “Piece by Piece often makes the cardinal mistake of so many botched albums by pop divas,” Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote. “It places the emphasis on sound, not song. This decision tends to submerge Clarkson, who performs as powerfully as ever but is nevertheless overwhelmed by skittish beats, fragmented samples, and electronic sheen.”
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The A.V. Club‘s Annie Zaleski thought Clarkson played it a little too safe on Piece By Piece. She gave the album a C, wishing for deeper emotions and more interesting musicality. She points out the singer’s recent ventures into other genres — a Christmas album, a Jason Aldean duet, covering Patti Page and Carole King at the 2013 Grammys — and argues she’s at her best when tackling new challenges: “Clarkson’s the rare pop star who sounds most comfortable when she’s not playing it safe.”
But The Guardian awarded Clarkson’s new album four out of five stars, and championed her for not playing it safe. “On Piece By Piece there are also chinks of experimentation,” Michael Cragg wrote — “The splintered electronics on “Take You High,” the Phoenix-esque “Nostalgic” and the pulsating urgency of “Dance With Me.” His one beef: “Only the didactic, Jessie J-esque “I Had a Dream” mars an album loaded with laser-guided, heartfelt pop.”
Newsday awarded the album a B grade, saying its bottom line was Clarkson “Settling into a more grown-up phase of pop.” Glenn Gamboa noted, though, that Clarkson’s “successful home life seems to have quenched much of the fire that fueled her previous successes.”
Jason Scott gave the album a glowing review for Pop Dust, calling it a “patchwork quilt of EDM, pop, rock, R&B and soul,” featuring “some of her best recordings of her career.” They gave it a score of four out of five.
For Rolling Stone, Chuck Arnold gave the album three stars out five, and praised it for its eighties influence: “She gets her Molly Ringwald on to ‘Heartbeat Song,’ the pulsating first single… On ‘Dance With Me,’ Clarkson channels her inner Pat Benatar.