Happy birthday, Kelly Clarkson!

5:35 AM – Single cup Keurig this morning. And I learned the coffee maker defect was a user error. Chefmaster is off the hook, if not off the chain.

***

“Mr. Still, no offense, but you just don’t look like a Kelly Clarkson fan.” – an anonymous student who shares my fanfare

I’ve only wept tears out of sheer, overwhelming giddiness at two concerts. The first time was when Willie Nelson simply walked onto the stage. He led with his belly, braids dangling low, and when he waved to the crowd I lost it. The second time was when Kelly Clarkson scrambled through the crowd 15 feet in front of me singing a cover of fun’s “We Are Young”. It was too much. Thousands of us singing “so let’s set the world on fire / we could burn brighter than the sun” with our hands in the air and Kelly Clarkson leading us as one giant chorus. It was truly a bucket-list worthy performance. In celebration of Kelly Clarkson’s 31st birthday today, I shall re-hash my review, written for our local 979 Represent dirtbag rag, of her new Greatest Hits record. I’ve made a few edits. Enjoy the review and certainly the links. 

***

Kelly Clarkson’s Greatest Hits

Here’s the deal: I’m not buying Kelly Clarkson’s Greatest Hits record. I’m not buying it because I have all these tracks. I’m the dedgum Clarksonian institute. If you need a Kelly Clarkson track, I’ve got it. A performer of Kelly Clarkson’s prestige does not need a half-committed fan base. And you will not find any Christmas-and-Easter-only Kelly Clarkson wishy-washers in the Still home. We’re full-bloom Kellebrities around here.

Kelly Clarkson’s Greatest Hits single, “Catch My Breath”, fits the sound of Clarkson’s most recent studio release, Stronger. Where Breakaway, My December and All I Ever Wanted showcased guitar-driven pop-rock, Stronger strips back the guitars, amps the synth, and even swells with straight-up Nashville country sensibilities. “Catch My Breath”, a personal genuflection on her career from American Idol forward, solidifies the electro-pop new direction of Clarkson’s music, while also featuring some of Clarkson’s most personal lyrics and strongest studio performance since Breakaway’s “Because of You” and “Hear Me”.

Likewise, Clarkson’s duet with Vince Gill (featuring very little Vince Gill), “Don’t Rush”, plays as a throwback to early 80s country-pop radio standards that puts me in mind of the Kenny Rogers / Dolly Parton power ballad, “Islands In The Stream”. The happy-sappy chorus and swimmy guitars on “Don’t Rush”, chopped by an elevator-y muzak style bridge, makes me think that Kelly Clarkson is having fun here, recording an ode to childhood radio nostalgia. Whatever the case, “Don’t Rush” is a far better country song than Stronger’s “Don’t You Wanna Stay” Jason Aldean duet: the only Kelly Clarkson track I skip every time it circles around.

Another previously unreleased tracked featured on Greatest Hits“People Like Us”, begins with a spoken, Pat Benatar “Love Is A Battlefield” style admonition of diversity and tolerance. Honestly, the vocal intro feels trite, even a bit silly, but it does not steal from the track’s overall effect. “People Like Us”, ripe with Britney Spears-esque club beats and anthemic chorus, is easily Clarkson’s strongest pop-rock track since All I Ever Wanted’s “I Do Not Hook Up”, an instant radio classic of feminine self-preservation penned by pop princess Katy Perry but performed by the superior artist. There. I said it.

While Kelly Clarkson appears, in her song choices and writing, as well as interviews and Tweets, to be moving in a country music direction, I’m stoked to hear this pop-rock heavier “People Like Us”, as well as the live version of “Miss Independent” on the Deluxe Greatest Hits record, which vividly illustrates Clarkson’s vocal progress since her American Idol days. Also, I can’t get enough of Clarkson’s Smoakstack Sessions Vol. 2 mash-up cover of Alanis Morisette’s “That I Would Be Good” and Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody”. It’s a strange combination of forces, but Clarkson’s team somehow makes it work, even if, admittedly, the former track still clearly belongs to flute happy Morisette.

Still, these newly available tracks prove that Kelly Clarkson is a powerhouse rock vocalist, a la – dare I say – Aretha Franklin. And while I’ll always prefer Clarkson’s rockier side to her new fangled country influences, I’ll follow Kelly Clarkson wherever she goes. If she really wanted to go country on Stronger or the even on the new tracks for her Greatest Hits record, I wish she’d have included her cover of Patti Griffin’s “Up To The Mountain” or her “Because of You” duet with Reba McEntire. Both performances prove she can hold her own alongside her successors and heroines.

My friend Atarimatt was right when he said that Kelly Clarkson must have sold her soul somewhere to be so good, to rise above reality television in such a way that sets a new standard for performers – male and female – who follow in her wake. Either that or Kelly Clarkson is one of the few artists with enough soul to shine through.

– December 2012

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About Kiki Malone

Girding till the break of dawn.
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2 Responses to Happy birthday, Kelly Clarkson!

  1. Chad says:

    Kiki–

    I want you to know deep in your knower that I will never criticize your appreciation (love) for Kelly Clarkson. In fact, I find it endearing. But here is the truth about me: every time you mention Kelly Clarkson, I have to google her name to remind me who she is. I’m sorry, I can never remember if she’s a country singer, a pop singer, a teenager, an American Idol, all of the above, none. And, I don’t know a single song of hers.

    A few months ago I fell hard for Frank Ocean. I was listening to a lot of Otis, Marvin, and Rev Green at the time. Then I heard about Ocean. He had a new album out, and the clips sounded really soulful. I thought perhaps he was taking upon the mantle of those old dudes. So, I picked up Ocean’s album Channel Orange, and damn, I was in love. Swinging beats, emotion, explicit lyrics (which is a fucking must for me), and a message. I thought of the album as a post-modern update to What’s Going On.

    After about a month of playing this album non-stop, foisting it on friends and dinner guests, and facebook posts about how much I love Frank Ocean. My wife let me know that people were talking about my Ocean obsession behind my back. Apparently, the Frank Ocean sales demographic is African American high school girls. This made sense to me since he’s a very suave, good-looking fella, who comes across as a man in touch with his emotions but also ready to get down and dirty in the sack. But the implication from the wife was that middling-aged white men are not suppose to grove to Ocean.

    So it goes. I’m gonna keep shakin’ it to Ocean, and I hope you keep shakin’ it to Clarkson.

    • Kiki Malone says:

      Chadaladadingdong –

      I recommend that you click on the link above for “Up To The Mountain.” It’s mighty fine. And it’s not a pop sound. I can actually guarantee that you will like it.

      I pimp my love for Kelly Clarkson because, genuinely, she is one of my top three favorite artists, and also because I find it bizarre that people our age still abide by some weird notion of “guilty pleasure” when it comes to music and film and even books.

      What is this “guilty pleasure” situation? Why should I feel weird or guilty for liking anything that I like? This is stupid. So what if you and a bunch of black tweeners love the Frank Ocean? Who’s to talk shit on you about it behind your back? I have my loves and I will not hide my loves. And I feel all the more prone to share openly the loves that others think should be “guilty pleasures”. The more guilty you want me to feel, the more days I’ll wear my Kelly Clarkson t-shirts and crank my Katy Perry CDs! Hell, Glen Campbell’s birthday was Monday, and I rocked me some “Wichita Lineman” in response. So sue me.

      You shake your booty to Ocean, I’ll rock my ta-tas to Clarkson, and we’ll meet in the middle ‘neath that old Wainright whine.

      – a free man

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