Winter's angst goes head to head with summer's optimism during Clarkson's "December"

Jul 3, 2007 (Updated Jul 26, 2007)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Great voice, slightly different thematic fare

Cons:A couple clunky backgrounds...I think that's it

The Bottom Line: I never thought I'd see the day when I would alternate between a Kelly Clarkson and Project 86 album

Beneath all the controversy of Kelly Clarkson's junior album is a voice. A quite talented voice, albeit one with more then a recommended daily serving of bitterness. That voice is Ms. Clarkson's, standing tall but shattered. And her album.

All right, quit all the drama. None of it is really incriminating and if you think Kelly/Clive (With undercard Kelly's angst/Ex-boyfriend's smirk) was a private conflict that unintentionally got out into the press, then I have a press release saying the Spice Girl's are planning a reunion tour (Man, if I had used that line 6 months previous it might have actually worked).

You'll have to excuse me, I'm a little lost here. It's not often I'll be on the reviewing end of a mainstream pop album. Add in the fact that it's an American Idol winner and a brand spankin' new release, and I'd be surprised if you didn't glance to the right to make sure I was still making that pseudo-hip hand motion in my casual profile pic. But, after being properly introduced to Kelly through her hit singles three years old now, I had to hear more. And I figured her junior release poised for a summer street date would be a good place to start as any. Still being a relative newbie to her and the genre, I would have to say I was correct.

For the life of me, I don't understand why "Never Again" was an absolute bomb on the radio. As a single, it combines an aggressive attitude a la Avril Lavigne with some quotable lyrics ("Give me that Sunday School answer...Make it all okay" anyone?) and a rocky chorus that I'm again surprised hasn't hooked more listeners. As the album opener, it sets the stage for the constant railing against ex's that occupies most of the disc's thematic space. "One Minute's" rock-meets-techno beat isn't as listener-friendly as Kelly's smooth vocals in the chorus, but it's that exact same contrast that makes it an enjoyable listen. "Hole" acts out it's rock braggado too much but Kelly's voice again shines above the cluttered, dismayed atmosphere.

Not sure if it has been confirmed yet, but I've been hearing strong rumors about "Sober" being released as the next single, and I think that's a mistake. "Sober" is one of those hidden gems that makes people glad they bought the album after hearing it's representative on the radio, and I think it's a tad too personal for the airwaves. Thematic baggage aside, the song is sterling; Ms. Clarkson's vocal chords are soaked in appreciation from a lesson hard-but-well learned and the guitar strings are precisely plucked for clarity and smoothly strummed for emphasis. Instead, maybe "Dont' Waste Your time" should be considered for the spot. If the general listening audience doesn't appreciate a pissed-off Kelly maybe they'll propel a more upbeat tune to the top of the charts. There is a relatable lyrical message about friends, regret and how you should treasure the former and renounce the latter. The song itself isn't hit material, just a happy guitar-based sound that is smiling without being hyper. Warming vocal harminazation adds a nice little cream topping to the whole thing.

The heated "Judas" is a solid number as it quickly moves from a level of disbelief over a betrayal to a manner bordering on scheming. And if you liked when Kelly pulled a variation of Evanescence"My Immortal" with her hit "Because of You" (I know I did), you'll feel likewise about "Haunted." There is a flowering guitar continually shriveled by Clarkson's vocal hopelessness and a more obvious electric one to add dangerous flair to the foggy setting. "Be Still" is soothing in the lullaby-soft approach taken in the vocals and the nighttime snack mentality of the drowsy keys,synth and swaying drum shot. "Maybe" isn't too much different, save for the difference in guitar attitude (It's has a bigger persona here) and an added layer of confidence in the vocals.

At this point in the race, "How I Feel" is the front runner as far as my hit count goes. The same solid vocal work is present here, this time mixed together with a glossy, guitar-based, musical concoction to make a fresh cocktail, with the olives in the drink being the sweet/sour taste of relateability in the pseudo-personal lyrics. "Yeah" takes that same upbeat attitude but translates it into a slightly country twanged guitar and a horn section waking up after a full night's sleep, streching arms out in a V.

"Can I Have a Kiss" is pleasantly surprisingly in it's sultry attitude and impressive in the presence Kelly's chords embody against the stripped, acoustic background. "Irvine," manages to remain both candid and ambiguous. Kelly switches things up vocally, adding a little more girth to her vocal head. Stick around after "Irvine" for a decent, 'unpluggged,' bordering on freestyle acoustic number.

If it's one thing that "My December" doesn't have is appeal. Unless "Sober" catches major fire on the radio (It should, but I all but guarantee it won't) people aren't going to be attracted to this album, her already established listening base aside. That's not a knock against the album, but it will no doubt create a dilemma or two for some potential consumers who feel hesitant buying an album they haven't heard any press on. Word of mouth will have to promote this album to be the top selling LP in Clarkson's discography (Which, I'll take from other sources, it is in content regardless of the final sales number), so here's my two cents: "December" is one of the most solid albums you'll hear all summer, if not all year. There may not be a song that will get a chance to compete for the ultimate summer anthem for 2007, but this album may be the bridge between Clarkson becoming an act and becoming an artist. It's definitely a scenic route, so make sure you take the time and take it in.

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