As the eighth season of “American Idol” airs on FOX, the first winner of the show, Kelly Clarkson, is set to release her fourth studio album, “All I Ever Wanted” on March 10. Clarkson, a two-time Grammy winner for her second album, “Breakaway,” hopes to re-claim the success she once had, following the commercial disappointment of her third album, “My December.”
While “My December” had its fans, RCA executive Clive Davis reportedly did not like the album because he did not hear any hits. In the process, Davis made numerous jabs at Clarkson’s songwriting ability (most infamously at the “American Idol” finale in 2007 where he applauded the songwriters of “Since U Been Gone,” while forgetting to mention “Behind These Hazel Eyes” or “Because of You,” which were written by Clarkson) and the album release was postponed a number of times. All of the songs on “My December” were written by Clarkson. The first single “Never Again” quickly entered the charts, but fizzled a few weeks after its release to radio. The Sarah McLachlan/Annie Lennox-esque “Sober” was released next, but did not get proper promotion by the label. Clarkson was not given the opportunity to film a video and the song could only be heard in the early hours of the morning.
On “All I Ever Wanted,” Clarkson is back working with professional songwriters brought in by RCA and features a number of would-be-hits similar to “Breakaway.” First single, “My Life Would Suck Without You” was written by Lukasz Gottwald (Dr. Luke) and Max Martin, who composed Clarkson’s massively successful, “Since U Been Gone.” “My Life Would Suck Without You” has performed extremely well on the radio, leaping 96 spots on the Hot 100 singles chart from 97 to 1 in the matter of a week. The single spent two weeks at the top of the chart and continues to rise on the pop charts.
“All I Ever Wanted” features two Katy Perry penned tracks, “I Do Not Hook Up” and “Long Shot.” New “American Idol” judge Kara DioGuardi helped co-write “Hook Up,” which sounds exactly like a Perry reject (the demos with Perry as the singer can be found in a quick search on YouTube). Fortunately, Clarkson is the better talent and lifts the tracks considerably with her voice and revamped studio production.
Despite the lack of hits from “My December,” the strongest songs on “All I Ever Wanted” are written by Clarkson. “Cry” is composed similar to a country song, but the production is classic pop and reminiscent of “Because of You.” The waltz-like construction to the song is moving as Clarkson belts through the emotional lyrics and gives one of her most mature vocal performances to date.
Clarkson penned “Ready” awhile back and the demo leaked onto the Internet in the beginning of 2008. The acoustic vibe has completely changed as the new production is a bit sunnier with an increased tempo. “Ready” is similar to recent singles from Sara Bareilles and Jason Mraz in tone and through the breezy temperament of the song.
“I Want You” is primo pop perfection that sounds like it came straight from the girl groups of the ’60s (The Ronettes and The Crystals immediately come to mind). The chorus and Clarkson’s vocals are infectious; the song will be blasted on beaches for many summers to come.
While the Keri Noble penned, “If No One Will Listen,” is a pretty song where Clarkson’s vocals shine, the song does not compare to some of the ballads Clarkson wrote on her last album (“Sober,” “Be Still,” “Irvine”). The lyrics lack the same depth and emotional connection. Perhaps, Clarkson’s lowered visibility behind the song has slightly affected her ability to connect the same way she has done in the past.
OneRepublic front man Ryan Tedder played a significant role on the album as a producer and writer. Tedder is behind numerous hits, including Leona Lewis’ “Bleeding Love” and Beyonce’s “Halo.” One track Tedder produced and co-wrote with Clarkson titled “Already Gone” sounds nearly identical to “Halo,” especially the beginning instrumental portion. However, on its own merits, the song is well-written and could potentially be a hit for Clarkson. Written by Tedder and Aimée Proal, “Save You” is a beautifully composed ballad with a nod to Mozart, especially near the bridge where a piano solo is prominently featured. The song is pure pop bliss.
In terms of Clarkson’s own catalogue, “Don’t Let Me Stop You” is reminiscent of “Behind These Hazel Eyes” and “If I Can’t Have You” sounds like a sister song to “Judas.”
Title track “All I Ever Wanted” is slick pop/rock funk straight out of the ’70s along with the thumping, “Whyyawannabringmedown.” Both songs were first performed by Aranda and immediately snatched up by Clarkson for this release.
Bottom line: Not as emotionally satisfying as “My December,” but catchy and irresistible enough to make this one of the best pop albums of the year (so far) and Clarkson’s best effort to date.