Here are the album reviews I wrote for the December issue of EL Magazine, which was distributed in Tokyo on November 25.
Meaning of Life
-Kelly Clarkson (Atlantic/Warner)
In our mind there is no better mainstream pop album released in this century than The Truth About Love, which came out in 2012, but it’s not as if P!nk has been in this situation before. Her second album, Missundaztood, released in 2001, was another epoch-making record, and while she only took two years to provide the followup, the thud that the seriously rocking Try This made when it hit the market was notable only because too much was expected of it and P!nk was in the unavoidable process of maturing as an artist. She’s a grown-ass woman now, happily married with a kid and a fulfilling life that she deserves, so if Beautiful Trauma doesn’t quite hit the spot the way Truth did, chalk it up to personal calculation rather than the commercial kind. There’s a seriousness here with regards to both the material and the delivery that indicates a desire to settle into a mode of musical expression she can occupy for life. She still snarls and spits at life’s unfairness, but generally she stays in her head, reliving past dramas that distance has made less immediate, and thus less compelling for the listener. Even the funky fun of “Revenge,” complete with an almost (but not quite) unrecognizable contribution from Eminem, seems excitable only by default. For the most part, she alternates between throat-catching ballads and midtempo diva diversions, and thanks to co-writer Jack Antonoff, the songs are solid and solidly generic. P!nk has earned her sense of peace, and that knowledge is probably the most satisfying aspect of the album. Kelly Clarkson is much farther along in her career than P!nk was in 2001, but her eighth album feels like some sort of breakthrough, and a very entertaining one. Does it mean anything that her last seven were recorded for the same record company P!nk serves and Meaning of Life is her debut for a new one? In any case, she mostly leaves behind the contempo adult style that was her metier (and which P!nk has drifted into) and barrels head first into full-tilt soul and R&B that ratchets up the old school gospel component. Flitting confidently from Motown bounce (“Love So Soft”) to Memphis smolder (“Move You”), she covers her chosen territory like the seasoned pro she is and aims to please rather than to express. And while producer Greg Kurstin can usually be expected to follow the same kind of conventions that Antonoff does, he’s also proven with people like Lana Del Ray and Tegan & Sara that he knows how to make his charges sound distinctive, and the modern touches here never seem trite. For sure, Clarkson doesn’t do anything innovative on Meaning of Life, but she understands how good these songs are and wants to do right by them. Sometimes a certain kind of commercial calculation is exactly what you need to get the juices flowing again. Continue reading