Kelly Clarkson has never been one to stand on ceremony.
Across the seven albums she’s released since first winning “American Idol” 15 years ago, Clarkson has always led with her biggest hits, landing a series of vocal knockouts in quick succession instead of structuring albums that steadily, patiently build up to them, favoring pop payloads over payoffs.
Keeping that in mind makes Clarkson’s decision to open “Meaning of Life” with slow-burning “A Minute (Intro),” the first intro track of her career, all the more notable. “Sometimes, I need a minute that’s my own,” she croons, guitars and violins melding beneath sultry vocals, a vinyl record crackling in the background like a warm fireplace. “I need a minute in my zone/Where I can say just what I want.”
The track flits by, but it’s a cogent declaration of purpose for “Meaning of Life,” Clarkson’s first album since being released from the RCA Records deal she signed after “Idol,” and which she’s described as an “unhappy marriage.” Here, she finally transitions from the anthemically angst-ridden pop-rock that’s thus far defined her sound to the euphorically liberated pop-soul that’s personally shaped her, both as a born-and-raised Texan and a lifelong worshipper at Aretha’s altar.
For Clarkson, who first swept into the mainstream performing soul songs on “Idol,” it’s a near-perfect fit. The singer has perhaps never sounded as confident or comfortable as she does on “Meaning of Life,” filling the record with a surprisingly fluid collection of boot-stomping roof-raisers (sassy, Southern-fried “Whole Lotta Woman,” bouncy lead single “Love So Soft”) and stripped-down, midtempo ballads (sweetly intimate “Move You,” scorchingly sexy standout “Slow Dance”). Consistent throughout is a focus on the power of Clarkson’s raw pipes, a welcome departure from 2015’s “Piece By Piece,” where her soprano was polished to a high gloss and too often submerged in gluttonous EDM production.
By contrast, there’s scarcely a song on the new record where Clarkson isn’t going for broke, whether she’s nailing vocal runs intimidating enough to make Mariah blush on “Medicine” or evoking Adele on the bluesy, effervescent “Would You Call That Love.” And as a result, “Meaning of Life” has few weak links, unfolding instead as an album-long emancipation for one of our best female vocalists, released from pesky contractual obligations and channeling her delight at that newfound freedom into songs that, while signaling a new stage in her career, appear to flow directly from both heart and soul.
As a solo artist, the former Led Zeppelin frontman continues to push forward on a creative path that seldom repeats.Continue reading »
Here’s a list of the Globe staff members that appear in the movie, and the actors and actresses who play them.Continue reading »
The true story of Solomon Northup asks a mainstream audience to confront the worst of what humanity can do to itself.Continue reading »
In this gory thriller, messing with a blind veteran is not a good idea.Continue reading »
The Guillermo del Toro film stars Sally Hawkins as a mute cleaning lady who falls for an imprisoned creature from the deep.Continue reading »
Yuri Dojc’s “Last Folio,” at the Tufts University Art Gallery, shows destruction and endurance in Eastern Europe.Continue reading »
The prolific choreographer plans to retire as artistic director of his ballet company in order to focus on outreach and educational programs.Continue reading »
What’s the symbolism? What do art critics think? Heck, what do the Obamas think? We break down what you need to know about the portraits unveiled Monday.Continue reading »
The artist’s three sons have withdrawn from a lawsuit against a Massachusetts museum that wants to sell one of their late father’s paintings.Continue reading »