After seven studio albums Kelly Clarkson departed from RCA Records, which had been her label home since winning American Idol in 2002. Her last album Piece by Piece, released in 2015, was a moderate success but it didn’t achieve the same commercial success as her previous releases. Now Clarkson is signed to Atlantic Records and she announced that she would be releasing a more soul-influenced record, something she’d wanted to do for her entire career. The first fruit of her new deal is eighth studio album Meaning of Life.
When Clarkson originally announced her intention to record a more soulful record, fans and critics wondered if she was completely reinventing her sound. What a lot of people seemed to forget is that Clarkson’s debut album Thankful, released in 2003, had a lot more soul and R&B sounds on it before her label shaped her now trademark pop/rock sound.
The first track from Meaning of Life is Love So Soft and it’s clear that this project isn’t a huge jump for the singer. Yes Love So Soft is a little more soulful than what she’s released previously but it’s not the huge departure that many were probably expecting. The pop edge is still present but the vocals and the backing vocals are more soul-tinged than we’ve heard from Clarkson in a long time. The album opens with A Minute (Intro), which is noticeably different sonically and shows off Clarkson’s distinctive voice as she sings, ‘I need a minute for me’.
Even though the formula may not have been tweaked all that much, Meaning of Life is Clarkson’s most exciting album in quite some time. The title track is perhaps the best display of Clarkson’s newfound freedom. Her voice soars on the bombastic track over jangly piano melodies and a stark beat. She sounds the best she has in years and you can hear her singing with every ounce of passion she has.
Elsewhere on the album the hand-clap driven Heat sees Clarkson demanding a lover to make her feel weak for them, Move You pays homage to the epic sounds of 90s soul with an added gospel edge, and Whole Lotta Woman is a feisty ‘knowing your worth’ anthem that is sure to resonate with Clarkson’s core audience.
One of the finest moments on the record is piano ballad I Don’t Think About You, which allows the full breadth of Clarkson’s voice to shine. She packs so much power and emotion into her ballads and this is one of her best. Another highlight is the soaring cruel that sees Clarkson move from her lower range up to her belt, right the way through to her impressive falsetto.
Meaning of Life is a new start for Clarkson and she sounds better than ever. Her voice has a lot of soul in it and it’s nice to hear that showcased much more on this album. Despite only co-writing three of the 14 tracks on the record, Clarkson really sells every one of these songs like she’s felt every single word she sings. Meaning of Life is the start of the next phase of Clarkson’s career and it’s a definite step in the right direction.
Track listing: 1. A Minute (Intro) 2. Love So Soft 3. Heat 4. Meaning of Life 5. Move You 6. Whole Lotta Woman 7. Medicine 8. Cruel 9. Didn’t I 10. Would You Call That Love 11. I Don’t Think About You 12. Slow Dance 13. Don’t You Pretend 14. Go High Record label: Atlantic Records Release date: 27th October 2017