Piece By Piece is an album that fits within the expectations of Kelly Clarkson based on her past musical output. It isn’t beyond the brand of pop that comprised her last two records, All I Ever Wanted and Stronger, which both consisted of confidence-building upbeat pop songs and heartbreak ballads. She sticks to the same formula and wins with familiarity, but there are no surprises and little evolution in her sound, even if it’s been four years since her non-holiday last album.
Heartbeat Song, the first single, has crisp made-for-radio production, and an immediate chorus that not only starts the song, it kicks off the album. It’s fresh, though not as fresh as Mr. Know It All was upon release, and catchy, but not as catchy as My Life Would Suck Without You. It works fine as a single but as the lead-off for Kelly’s first album since becoming a mom, and releasing her greatest hits album, it’s lacking.
She offers her signature vocals on Invincible, one of two songs co-written by Sia. The other, Let Your Tears Fall, has been Kellified from what could have been a track on Sia’s own 1000 Forms Of Fear.
Take You High presents an ear-worm in the form of digital vocal processing that are cringing at first but repeated listens make it stick hard – I now look forward to it. There are many occasions on the record that bring out the singer in all of us as we join Kelly in song on Dance With Me and Nostalgic, both of which help hold up the back end of the album while I Had A Dream channels Music Box-era Mariah.
The album’s true highlight, however, is the title track. It has that attribute because it is a rare time Kelly opens up about something personal. In this case, she’s singing to her father about how her husband has restored her faith in men after he abandoned her as a child. The lack of subtleness in the lyrics weakens it but they are still biting and show Kelly’s ability to dig deeper with her music.
I always got the impression she has more to say than her songs usually give her room to, especially given how opinionated she is. Ever since the My December vs. her label situation, she’s rarely had the freedom to put that kind of passion into her lyrics and the title track breaks through that while the rest of the record sticks to being generic.
Piece By Piece is a pleasant album that is easier to like if you’ve accepted that Kelly will never be able to flourish beyond the pop singer she’s become known as, but to do so is to dismiss her potential. It’s unfortunate that I had an idea what this album would be like before hearing it. I don’t expect to be blown out of left field but it’s hard to stay interested when there is never an element of surprise. As Kelly’s music continues to stay on the side of safe, she becomes less interesting and there’s less reason to stay invested.
1. Heartbeat Song
4. Take You High
5. Piece By Piece
6. Run Run Run [featuring John Legend]
7. I Had A Dream
8. Let Your Tears Fall
10. War Paint
11. Dance With Me
13. Good Goes The Bye
14. Bad Reputation*
15. In The Blue*
16. Second Wind*