Let’s face it: you know exactly what you’re getting when you pick up a Kelly Clarkson album: A sprinkling of everybody-scream-along pop anthems (Jimmy Eat World tribute “Heartbeat Song,” coulda-been-a-Taylor–Swift–1989-cut “Let Your Tears Fall,” “Stronger”-sister-in-song “Nostalgic”) amid mostly mid-tempo jams your too-cool older brother wouldn’t change the radio station to avoid (the double-dub-step self-help punch of “Take You High” and “Invincible”).
The only real missteps on Piece By Piece come when Kelly tries to play too vulnerable (Katy Perry’s “Not Like the Movies” trumps “Run Run Run”) or gets boringly preachy (“I Had a Dream”). (Actually, it’s kind of impressive that she manages to turn a song blasting people guilty of such sins as “spreading their legs” rather than “using their words” into such a dirge.)
Overall, the Piece By Piece is good, of course — like a familiar suburban chain restaurant, a Clarkson album always delivers comfortably and consistently — but here the more basic cuts pale in comparison to several remarkable tracks that hopefully point to a deepening in Kelly’s songcraft.
Title cut “Piece by Piece” is a slow-building cry of Kelly’s extremely tuneful rage towards her absentee, unredeemable father, leavened by an equally passionate declaration of faith and commitment to her own daughter. Even better is “Someone,” which elegantly traces how breakups bring out our kindest and meanest selves with some of the best, most striking lyrics in recent memory.
Those are the kinds of songs a talent like Kelly Clarkson needs to be singing — more of them, please.
Best Song That Wasn’t the Single: The utterly gorgeous “Good Goes the Bye.” It’s quintessential Kelly Clarkson: somehow she manages to simultaneously project sadness, bravery, wisdom, and healing.
Best Listened To: Anywhere and anytime you need to be reminded what irony-free kindness and humanity sound like, especially now that Parks and Rec is off the air.
Idolator Score: 3.5/5
— Jonathan Riggs
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