Album Reviews

Kelly Clarkson – Chemistry

(Atlantic) UK release date: 23 June 2023

It may not be up there with Rumours or Blood On The Tracks, but given the emotion and heart poured into it, Chemistry is a more than decent break-up album

Kelly Clarkson - Chemistry Last year marked the 20th anniversary of Kelly Clarkson being crowned the winner of the debut season of American Idol. While Simon Cowell’s show has seen a few of its winners disappear back into obscurity, it’s also created a few genuine stars – Carrie Underwood and Jordin Sparks to name just two, while Clarkson is arguably the most successful of them all.

It’s been a career of remarkable longevity – as well as her music, she’s also a published children’s author, has her own daytime TV talk show in the USA, and recently returned to her reality TV show roots to be a coach on The Voice. It makes you wonder where she found time to record her 10th solo album.

Chemistry is a work that’s going to attract plenty of attention beyond Clarkson’s long-term fans though. Last year, she divorced her husband, and many of the songs on the album take inspiration from that relationship. It’s impossible to hear some of Clarkson’s lyrics on this album without thinking you’re intruding on someone’s diary.

For it’s fair to say that, listening to the majority of the tracks on Chemistry, this divorce was not particularly amicable. The opening track Skip This Part is a brave choice to introduce the album, being a minimal slow-burner in the style of Billie Eilish, with talk of people gossiping about Clarkson “all over town” and even “numbing the pain with my sweet Mary Jane”. The tone is set from the start – she’s been through the emotional wringer.

Yet it’s not a particularly depressing listen. Clarkson is certainly now in the ’empowering’ stage of a break-up, so tracks such as the gospel-tinged Me sees her rediscovering herself, while David Guetta injects a much needed bounce and sense of fun with Favourite Kind Of High (co-written with Carly Rae Jepsen) describing the rush of embarking on a new relationship. Clarkson is still a flawless vocalist of course – many of these songs are lifted up to another level with her voice. If another singer tackled tracks like High Road or Magic, it may sound a bit formulaic, but with Clarkson’s powerful voice they soar.

There is also a fair few moments where it all goes a bit delightfully weird. Red Flag Collector begins like a Spaghetti Western film, before turning into a vitriolic open letter to her ex (“Sure, you can have the towels, tell ’em all I’m crazy, what a nice cliché blamin’ me, I guess”) while Steve Martin is namechecked on the genuinely funny I Hate Love, with the man himself guesting on his trademark banjo.

It’s testament to Clarkson that she can handle these more quirky kinds of tracks as well as she deals with the big stadium anthems like Rock Hudson, a track that you can imagine Pink belting out. It’s an album dealing with matters that Clarkson clearly needed to get out of her system, and in doing so, it may well provide comfort for others in a similar situation. It may not be up there with Rumours or Blood On The Tracks, but given the emotion and heart poured into it, Chemistry is a more than decent break-up album.

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