On her fifth studio album, Kelly Clarkson shows her strength as an artist with a collection of tracks that range from dance beats to punk-rock tunes.
The new release, “Stronger,” leans on adult contemporary R&B and rock instead of the pristine power pop of 2004 album “Breakaway.” The album features more
assured, gritty vocals that make nearly every song a satisfying listen. At the heart of the album, tracks like the thematic centerpiece “What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger)” and the lyrically witty “I Forgive You” provide familiar shout-filled choruses characteristic of the American Idol star’s “Since U Been Gone” heyday. But with ambient synths and skillful drum
programming, these are rock songs heavy on biting production and light on gauzy pop sensibility.
The theme of strength and its vague meaning appears both clandestinely and obviously throughout “Stronger.” Clarkson asks a lover if he is strong enough to handle her less palatable qualities on the eerie “Dark Side,” which is backed by what sounds like a broken music box. Later, she questions the validity of societal influence on the politically charged “You Can’t Win” by singing lyrics filled with wry humor like “If you’re straight/ Why aren’t you
married yet/ If you’re gay why aren’t you waving a flag.” Songs like these show Clarkson has changed from her typical personal narrative song selection to a more universal style that turns outward and explores the human experience from the foundation of the album’s central theme.
Overall, “Stronger” is a musical reincarnation of human passion and endurance that weaves emotional nuances together to create a spellbinding collection of inspirational rock tracks.