On many songs, Clarkson truly turns into "Miss Independent"-She's not about to let any man take advantage of her.
On "I Do Not Hook Up" (written by Katy Perry and "American Idol" judge Kara Dioguardi, BTW), she warns her buddy with a drinking problem to look somewhere else besides the bottle and her bed if he's looking for something serious. On the title track, she asserts, "I'll fall a thousand times before I let you drag me down."
First single, "My Life Would Suck Without You," which set a record for biggest jump to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 when it soared from No. 97 to No. 1, showed that her fans wanted their Idol back and were willing to forgive her going her own way on 2007's "My December." (For all the talk of the album being a failure, it still sold 2.5 million copies around the world. Not too shabby).
For "All I Ever Wanted," she's back in the mainstream pop pocket, working with such producers and songwriters as Dr. Luke, Max Martin, Howard Benson, Ryan Tedder (of OneRepublic fame), Sam Watters and the previously mentioned Perry and Dioguardi.
The result is a 14-song collection, out March 10, that spans the pop from sugar pop to power ballads, dance, power pop and rock. Vocally, Clarkson has never sounded better. She belts when she needs to, but is never afraid to show a little restraint and tenderness when it's warranted.
Now, with more than 16 million albums sold and some tough career knocks behind her, Clarkson stretches on her most versatile album so far. The mid-tempo ballad, "Already Gone," one of the album's strongest tracks, sounds like one of the best songs Beyonce never cut. It's a different, dreamier type of production for Clarkson but it suits her beautifully. She doesn't over sing it and the steady beat anchors the track without ever overpowering it. Similarly, we hear a new side of Clarkson on "Ready," a bright song that sounds like a cut off Sara Bareilles' album. Clarkson channels her inner Britney on dance track "If I Can't Have You," replete with breathy vocals. But her voice, of course, runs rings around Spears' vocals. Despite all these comparisons and the sometimes generic nature of the songs (many of them could just as easily be performed by Pink, Perry or Leona Lewis), Clarkson manages to put her stamp on each song.
There are a few missteps on the CD. Nothing lethal, but the project as a whole would have been stronger without the inclusion of "Whyyawannabringmedown," which is a about as irritating as how the title is written. She's channeling her inner punk rocker, but it doesn't work. Clarkson can pull off edgy, but a rockergrrrl, she's not. The ultra-poppy "I Want You" has a nice girl-group vibe, but it doesn't play to Clarkson's strengths.
Between the bouncy tracks, there are the "message" songs, which are different sides of the same coin: On "Save You," Clarkson wishes she could help someone but she's already moved on. Conversely, Clarkson goes all Whitney on the closing track, "If No One Will Listen." This time, she's singing about about how she will believe in you until you can believe in yourself. To her credit, she sells every note of both songs.
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