The original American Idol is back, with an album that proves you don’t have to sell your soul to make good music.
From the opening moments of Kelly Clarkson’s pop-infused Piece By Piece, there’s a positivity that rings out. The opening track, “Heartbeat Song,” is an upbeat love song. “Invincible” is a survivor song. “Someone” is a heartfelt apology. And so the trend goes throughout the whole album. It’s not just the lack of sexuality and anger that makes it stand out, but the presence of uplifting content.
In fact, it’s hard (though not impossible) to find a bone to pick with the messages of any of the album’s songs. Even when the album strays from being outright positive, it’s with a noble purpose. “Piece By Piece” is hardly all unicorns and lollipops, but as Clarkson herself has said, it’s about mourning a fatherless generation, and what effect having an absent father has on a girl, and how being married to a good man showed her what real manhood looks like: “He never asks for money/he takes care of me/He loves me/Piece by piece, he restored my faith/That a man can be kind and a father could stay”
There’s more pro-social content as well, such as “I Had a Dream”‘s reminders about integrity (“If you wanna preach be a preacher/If you wanna teach be a teacher/Remember that the footprints you’re leaving will tell us all who you really are”). The album isn’t perfect. It should be noted that there’s one profanity each in “Heartbeat Song” and “War Paint,” as well as a few in “Someone.” The song “Run” featuring John Legend contains what could be interpreted as some subtle innuendos. With that said, however, the album still comes out far ahead lyrically of anything else coming out in pop music right now.
And true to Kelly Clarkson’s legacy, she delivers with a powerful voice that’s hard to match. That doesn’t, however, mean this is the best album she’s delivered to date. Songs like “Piece By Piece,” and “War Paint” are catchy songs that deserve to be listed with Clarkson’s best songs, but there are fewer of those songs on this album than on previous records–if you purchase the standard version of the album.
It seems that most of the better songs are saved as special tracks for the deluxe version of the album, with “Bad Reputation” and “Into the Blue” reaching a level of emotional gravitas and musical crescendo that the rest of the album doesn’t quite achieve. So if you’re looking at the album on its own merit, it’s not the Grammy winner that Breakaway was, nor is it quite as fun as All I Ever Wanted. That said, it does have a few good tracks, and its beneficial content shouldn’t be overlooked. It may not wow or win any awards, but the steady Kelly Clarkson fan won’t be disappointed, and there will be a few songs that will make it onto your summer playlist.
Noteworthy songs: Heartbeat Song, Piece By Piece, War Paint
Rating: 3.5/5; Deluxe Version: 4/5