It can sometimes be difficult to keep up with all these young American pop stars, what with their seemingly interchangeable sound and polite-punk attitudes. So, to re-cap, Katy Perry’s the one with the faux-lesbian shtick, Miley Cyrus is the Disney starlet with the Britney complex and Kelly Clarkson won American Idol in 2002 and has since become that show’s biggest musical export.
A year prior to Clarkson’s win, another pop star with attitude, Pink, released her hugely successful Missunderstood album, a collection of would-be singles that showcased both a ‘don’t mess with me’ attitude and a profitable penchant for teenage angst. All this was framed by crunching guitars, clipped beats and gigantic choruses that could reach out to disaffected teenagers the world over. Clarkson was clearly paying attention and her second album, Breakaway, home to the brilliant Since U Been Gone, repeated this trick selling over 11 millions copies worldwide.
All I Ever Wanted, Clarkson’s fourth album, isn’t, in chronological terms, the follow-up to Breakaway, but in terms of the sound and the sheer commercial appeal, it’s an obvious musical partner. Squeezed in between the two albums, however, is Clarkson’s commercial misstep, My December, an album she fought to have released but that ended up shedding fans and has since been lost in the vault marked ‘When pop stars think they can write all their own material’.
So, All I Ever Wanted is make or break for Clarkson in terms of the big-hitters. Understandably, few risks have been taken when it comes to the writers and producers, with Ryan Tedder (he of Leona Lewis‘ Bleeding Love and singer with OneRepublic), Glen Ballard, Max Martin, Katy Perry herself and new American Idol judge Kara DioGuardi all onboard. It’s Martin who gets things underway with the first single, and current UK No.1, My Life Would Suck Without You, which is a near facsimile of Since U Been Gone, but is just as catchy and instantly memorable.
Elsewhere, Tedder delivers the stately Already Gone, a kind of half-ballad that sounds unnervingly similar to Tedder’s own Halo, which happens to be Beyonce‘s next single. He also co-writes If I Can’t Have You, a synthetic-sounding future-single in the vein of Perry’s Hot N Cold and Tip Of My Tongue, which utilises that odd, almost tinny beat he used for Bleeding Love. If this sounds like a lot of re-hashing and recycling has gone on well that’s because it has.
Two songs, I Do Not Hook Up and Long Shot, were originally recorded for Katy Perry’s scrapped solo debut, whilst If No One Will Listen, Whyyouwannabringmedown and the title track are all cover versions of songs by much lesser known artists (Keri Noble and Aranda respectively). It shouldn’t really matter obviously, it’s manufactured pop, but it does reveal the extent to which this is an album focus-grouped to within an inch of its life. Luckily, I Do Not Hook Up is another punchy, spunky pop stormer that po-gos around your brain for three and half minutes.
All I Ever Wanted is a big and brash pop album by a young female singer with a good voice and a manufactured attitude. Her lyrics veer from spiky and pissed off to lonely and needy (Cry is particularly dreary), whilst the music is either ‘loud’ (crunching guitar rifts as if recorded for a Disney teen flick) or ‘soft’, which means added strings or keyboard textures. As a product that needs to sell it fits the bill perfectly – there are at least five potential top ten singles here – but as an album, the whole thing feels precision tooled, vacuum-packed and strangely lifeless.