Kelly Clarkson released her fifth studio album this week, the long-delayed "Stronger" (a name that really needs to be retired from use by female solo artists). Originally slated for release in Fall 2010, then Spring 2011, "Stronger" finally arrives in Fall 2011, not as the much anticipated "Kelly Clarkson country" album, or even a musical evolution from the multi-platinum artist, but another solid entry is Clarkson's ongoing battle with love and relationships and why they suck so much.
I find it interesting that Clarkson said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that there was no real fighting with the label on this album. It's easy to spin that as the label trusting Clarkson more, but after listening to it, it's apparent that the lack of fighting stems from the fact that the album is, on the whole, "safe." It explores a lot of themes Clarkson has addressed before, primarily problems with love and overcoming them to be a better person. The lead single, "Mr. Know It All", is probably a perfect example of the "safeness" of the album: it sticks to the subject matter both Clarkson and her fans are most comfortable with, narrows her vocal range, strips down the production and produces a good, if forgettable track.
That's representative of my biggest disappointment with "Stronger": on the whole, it's perfectly fine, but it doesn't stick with you. I've listened to the whole thing through multiple times now and while it's enjoyable, it's also disposable. Aside from the title track and, maybe, "You Can't Win", there isn't really a song that sticks out and makes you want to play it over and over again. None of the six tracks Clarkson is credited with co-writing live up to her most recent prior writing efforts on songs like "Cry", "Already Gone" and "Impossible" from 2009's "All I Ever Wanted". There isn't a song that vocally chills the listener like "Sober" or "Because of You". And there definitely isn't a "Since U Been Gone", Clarkson's breakaway 2004 single that she's been measured against ever since.
Overall, there's nothing wrong with "Stronger". It's a good listen, and better than the vast majority of content most artists are putting out these days. However, nine years into her career, Clarkson should be striving for more than "better than most".