Becca Damante '17
Kelly Clarkson’s newest album, Piece by Piece, begins with the upbeat single “Heartbeat Song,” which feels to me like one of those nagging earworms that will never escape my musical conscience. As I listen to the song, I can’t help but fume over the melody’s obvious similarity to the “The Middle,” a 2001 hit from the alternative rock band, Jimmy Eat World. It’s nearly impossible to listen to one song without singing the other. And it seems that I’m not the only one; thousands of fans have noticed the similarity and called her out for it via social media.
Copyright infringement aside, Clarkson has had an outstanding career. Over a decade and a half, she has received nine Grammy awards, winning Best Pop Vocal Album twice in a seven-year span, and arguably has become one of the most successful contestants on American Idol to date. Just recently, she released her seventh studio album, Piece by Piece to critical acclaim, astonishing fans with yet another dynamic collection of songs.
Piece by Piece features a number of upbeat and emphatic selections. Almost all of the songs on the album are extremely singable and ready for radio, yet a few of them are too predictable in their melodies. The chord changes in the verses of “I Had a Dream” and “Let Your Tears Fall” are unsurprising to the listener, and could have been strengthened by some more creative melody writing. And I know that Clarkson can do it. Other songs on the album like “War Paint” and “Dance With Me” are much more unique in their melody construction, while also remaining extremely catchy and radio-friendly.
Where the melodies lack, the lyrics are strong. The title track “Piece by Piece” tackles the topic of divorce, as Clarkson’s father abandoned her and her mother when Clarkson was six years old. She contrasts this with her own experience as a mother and a wife, explaining that her husband “restored my faith that a man can be kind and a father could stay.” I applaud her for addressing such a serious topic, and coming out of her experience with a positive twist for listeners to reflect on.
“Take You High” is another great track on the album. I have to admit that at first I accused of it being overproduced, but after a few listens, I came to appreciate the risk she took using a more EDM influenced sound in the chorus. “Nostalgia” also utilizes a more electronic sound. It does so in a lesser capacity than “Take You High,” and this balance definitely makes it the more successful of the two.
Perhaps my favorite track of the album is “Invincible.” Co-written by Sia, its strong beat and triumphant lyrics bear conviction and strength, not surprising from Clarkson’s history of empowering hits like “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger” and “Breakaway.” With Clarkson’s powerhouse vocals and dynamic range at the forefront of the song, I definitely wouldn’t be surprised if it became the album’s second single.
While Piece by Piece has a lot of upbeat anthems, I wish it contained more slow ballads similar to the masterpieces from her last few albums such as “If No One Will Listen” and “Why Don’t You Try.” On this album, “Tightrope” seems to be the only one worth noting. Its magnificent string and piano accompaniment combined with Clarkson’s passionate performance make it hauntingly beautiful. The third track, “Someone,” tries to match this power, and in some respects it does. But its clichéd lyrics “to be the reason you breathe” and distracting instrumental track behind the chorus take away from its emotionality.
I wouldn’t say that this is my favorite album from Clarkson, but I do appreciate the risks she took to create it. Beginning July 11 in Hershey, PA, she embarks on a North American tour with a Capella sensation, Pentatonix, and that is something I definitely would not miss. I’ve seen Clarkson a few times live, and she is absolutely breathtaking to watch and to listen to. She has a stage presence like no one else, and always keeps the audience on their feet. She’ll definitely sing a number of her older hits, so if you’ve been a fan for a while, you won’t be disappointed.