Kelly Clarkson, Meaning of Life | Album Review
Veteran pop musician Kelly Clarkson continues to ‘moves us’ on her sixth studio album (seventh overall), ‘Meaning of Life.’
Kelly Clarkson is among the most consistent female pop artists without question. She has an incredibly versatile voice that “could sing the phone book,” quoting former American Idol judges. After a two-year hiatus, the original American Idol returns with Meaning of Life, her seventh album (including Wrapped in Red). Meaning of Life, a consistent affair through and through, follows up and exceeds her 2015, gold-certified album, Piece by Piece.
“Love So Soft”
Soulful intro “A Minute (Intro)” sets the tone of Meaning of Life with its soulful sound. Fittingly it precedes “Love So Soft,” a feisty, soulful pop joint that shows off mad personality. There are retro cues and vibes on this minor-key pop record, which prove to be a perfect match for Clarkson. Such cues include the punchy, boxy drums, gospel-driven backing vocals, and the horns. The repetitive, biting chorus is modern, in line with the gimmicky pop dominating the game these days. The best feature is the vocals. Clarkson’s pitch is great, her tone is ripe, and the nuances sublime. The falsetto towards the end is sick.
“Heat” isn’t lukewarm, it’s hot! Clarkson remains feisty and charged-up on this consecutive highlight, as she requests “more heat” from her man. It seems however, he needs to do his part and reinvigorate things. On the first verse, she complains:
“I’m stumblin’ through the darkness / There ain’t no sign of a spark here / I’m used to feelin’ that fire / You watered down that desire.”
Bro, step it up – she’s putting in work – you must match it and “turn this around.”
“Meaning of Life”
“Meaning of Life” possesses a retro-pop, retro-soul quality. This is thanks to the gritty lead vocals by Clarkson, backing vocals, and the six-eight, time signature. Throughout the song, there are some truly lovely, poetic lyrics. The chorus is powerful and well-written. Here, Clarkson flaunts her vocal abilities. Throughout “Meaning of Life,” her best attribute is her voice, which is nothing short of amazing.
“Move You” is an uplifting, thoughtfully written ballad about moving one another in regards to a relationship. Essentially, Clarkson wants to ‘complete’ her husband and ‘be his everything.’ The tempo is slow, but heavy pop/rock drums add some punch. Overall, the production is a selling point, including gospel choral vocals, guitar, and strings. Those choral vocals truly elevate “Move You,” providing more fuel for Clarkson’s lead. Not that she needed it – she’s inspired all on her own.
“Whole Lotta Woman”
After two ballads, “Whole Lotta Woman” restores the tempo and bite of Meaning of Life. Once more, there’s a heaping dose of retro-pop/soul, an awesome look for Clarkson. “Whole Lotta Woman” will reminisce to gems like “Ain’t No Other Man,” a Christina Aguilera hit in 2006. Obviously, their two different songs from two different decades, but there are similarities in the conception. Here, Clarkson isn’t focused on her man like Aguilera was, but on herself and in the bigger scheme of things, women’s empowerment. Who would’ve thought “Love So Soft” had competition for the crème de la crème?
“I’m a whole lotta woman / (From the way I walk and toss my hips) / I’m a whole lotta woman / (From the sound of my voice to the gloss on my lips) / I’m a whole lotta woman / (Anything I see, I want, I get) / I’m a strong, badass chick with classic confidence, yeah.”
“Medicine” has a hard act to follow. Even so, both attitude and tempo keep rolling without a hitch, aiding “Medicine” in maintaining consistency. The vocals and production continue to allure, while the chorus is infectious. Plenty of old-school cues, the production continues to incorporate modern cues as well, notably pitch-shifted vocals. “Cruel” slackens the pace, but DON’T call it a slow jam. Clarkson pours out her heart and soul with fine results.
“Didn’t I” again, plays the fine line between throwback and contemporary. The verses showcase more of the modern bag of tricks, yet the chorus highlights an allegiance to soul. Like some of the best, it’s feisty, jam-packed with oomph. Also, the backing vocals play an amplifying, accentuating role.
After a number of big-voiced number, “Would You Call That Love” is a bit tamer, which is welcome change of pace. DON’T get it twisted – Kelly Clarkson is still a powerhouse. Here, she simply shows more poise. The effects remain the same: consistent and enjoyable. Another long-awaited ballad arrives on “I Don’t Think About You.” It’s worth the wait, as Clarkson flaunts her range and overall vocal dexterity. The high notes are some of the highest she’s recorded during her career – impressive to the highest degree.
“And how did you go from being a mama’s boy to a ladies’ man? / I’m not goin’ home with you tonight, but you can hold my hand.” The retro-soul is turned up on the deliberately paced “Slow Dance,” which also has a dash of southern, country soul. Kelly Clarkson doesn’t break new ground, but she sure flexes on the tried-and-true like a champ. Clarkson follows up a ballad with another ballad, the penultimate “Don’t You Pretend.” It’s good, but outclassed by the truly great. Interestingly, she ends Meaning of Life with a bit more oomph with the slick “Go High.”
The best way to describe Kelly Clarkson is brilliant; she continues to move us. Clarkson can sport mad attitude (“Love So Soft” and “Whole Lotta Woman”), as well as slaughter – positively – an ballad (“Meaning of Life,” “Move You,” and “I Don’t Think About You”). At 35, she continues to slay the competition. It’s nearly impossible to stifle a high-flying musician/singer like Clarkson. She’s truly one of a kind.
Gems: “Love So Soft,” “Heat,” “Meaning of Life,” “Move You,” “Whole Lotta Woman” & “I Don’t Think About You”