A career in crisis? For someone as successful as Kelly Clarkson it may seem an odd question. Unfortunately Clarkson has had a troubled time of late. A cancelled headlining tour and a very public spat with her record company about the direction of her career has resulted in a mini crisis. She has held her nerve and pushed ahead with the record she wanted to make.
In a strange way My December could be viewed as Kelly Clarkson’s debut release. She has co-written all the songs and every one of the lyrics are from her pen. She has chosen who to compose with, who will produce the record and the content of the songs. It’s her attempt to break away from the role as a record company puppet and become an artist. These are her nightmares, this is very much her pain that’s pouring out of the speaker amps.
The result? Well, not the car crash that I was expecting. The thumping lead single and opening track Never Again sets the tone for the first clutch of songs. With a wiry, taut guitar riff, compressed drumming and sharp vocals it’s an audio slap in the face. A smart mini pop metal explosion of angst and rage. Clarkson has been crossed in love, and boy is she unhappy about it. She is venting spleen here, part
The fact that Clarkson has had some emotional issues was signposted on previous single Because Of You. It’s similar terrain here but with added anger and buckets full of scorn. This a world of liars , cheats, trophy wives. On Hole she sings “I’ve given up on faith, on everything, all I want, all I need is some peace”..now that’s a Goth lyric. It would fit nicely on a Cure or Linkin Park record. The harsh guitars slash and writhe as Clarkson emotes in a metallic howl. This is heavy stuff for the former American Idol winner.
Just as if seems like My December will be submerged under the weight of its own lyrics, drowned in a sea of grim recriminations and those bleak ugly guitars the gentle reflection of Sober arrives. An acoustic strum with ghostly lingering keyboard chords. Think of the sound of latter day Bruce Springsteen. After the gradually rising tide of melodrama it’s a clever and effective music detour. Clarkson’s voice unfurls like a flag in a light summer wind. It breathes softly fluttering with tiny infections. It sounds like she’s hurting but somehow finding the strength to continue.
If this was an old style vinyl record I would be talking of A and B sides as the mood of the later half of My December differs markedly from the open salvo. The later songs are mellower, showcasing Clarkson’s vocals in all their soulful glory. Lyrically she is recovering, looking for new love but fretful and afraid of the pain and commitment. It’s Lou Reed‘s Berlin in reverse – well, without the hard drugs and death, that is.
So does my December work? Depends how you look at it really. As a classic break up LP it’s not as blistering as Dylan‘s Blood on The Tracks or a claustrophobic as PJ Harvey‘s Rid of Me but then that was always unlikely. As a statement of intent it’s strong, as an attempt to reposition herself as an artist, well, it’s a good start. I hope for her sake it sells millions of copies.