October 27, 2017

Over a career spanning nearly 15 years Kelly Clarkson has become one of the biggest popstars in the world. She’s had eight studio album that have all charted in the top 5 in the US, won three Grammys and clocked three number one singles in her home country plus one here in Australia. She’s also spent much of her career working with some of the biggest names in music including Max Martin, Ryan Tedder and Greg Kurstin, constantly placing herself at the forefront of pop music.

On Meaning Of Life, however, Clarkson’s taken a sharp left turn. Her eighth album “doesn't really sound like anything on the radio,” as she told Rolling Stone. Instead, it sounds like the record Clarkson always wanted to make. A liberating, vocally soaring record that references soul and blues with little reliance on pop trends. If you want to hear Clarkson sing, like really sing, you’re going to hear it here. “Live” and “organic” are two words she’s been using heavily in interviews and she’s not wrong. From the emotive "Move You" to the powerful blues-influenced "Don’t You Pretend", she’s giving us her rawest work yet.

 While she’s reunited with Greg Kurstin, who has been busy producing for Adele, Sia and P!NK, and Jesse Shatkin who featured heavily on Breakaway, the album moves away from pop’s big hitters. Majority of the record was produced by Mick Shultz, who nabbed a Grammy for his work on Rihanna’s raw ANTI, and The Monarch, who have a background in R&B and rap production. At many times on this record she’s referencing throwback idols like Aretha Franklin, giving us hearty, soul anthems like the stomping, ball-breaker "Whole Lotta Woman".

Clarkson told Variety while speaking about the liberating process behind this album that in the past she’s been told to “shut up and sing.” There’s no sign of that here as we get to hear her sharp personality at the forefront. On "Whole Lotta Woman" she sings, “I ain’t no girl, I’m a boss with a voice,” and she asserts her power once more, referencing Michelle Obama on the empowering closer "Go High". The latter was directly inspired by Obama’s iconic 2016 speech at the Democratic National Convention. “How we explain that when someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level. No, our motto is, when they go low, we go high,” Obama said at the Convention and Clarkson has worked it into one of the record’s most hard-hitting hooks.

While she’s gone down a classic soul route, it doesn’t mean she’s completely forgotten she’s known for upbeat pop anthems. "Heat" is wildly charismatic as she throws down vocal acrobatics over a stomping beat and "Medicine" pairs the soul with a shuffling beat that at times sounds like it’s referencing Rob Base and DJ E-Z’s "It Takes Two". Lead-single "Love So Soft" is further proof she’s lost none of that sass that’s defined her biggest hits like "Miss Independent" and "Since U Been Gone".

If you’re here to hear Clarkson really sing though, head to the tail-end of the album. "I Don’t Think About You" is the big ballad moment and she brings it with a performance that would put trademark balladeers Adele and Sam Smith in their corner. It climbs to an epic finale with money note after money note before she backs it right up again on "Slow Dance", playing the temptress over a heated blues instrumental. By the time she gets to "Don’t You Pretend," she’s in full flight, tapping into the raspiness that lies in some of her most soaring notes.

Meaning Of Life doesn’t introduce us to a totally new pop star, instead, it allows her to give us an unfiltered version of what she’s always been trying to show us. Soul and blues have always run through Clarkson’s bloodstream, it’s just at times it’s been disguised in radio-ready pop jams. With a more organic, raw backdrop and the trust of a new team, Clarkson sounds liberated. She knows this is the best thing she’s ever done. And she’s right.

Meaning Of Life is out now, available on all platforms, and you can get your hands on some limited edition merch bundles here.