I’ve been a Kelly Clarkson fan since the very beginning. I remember hearing about her after she won the first season of American Idol. I bought her first album ‘Thankful’ when I was on holiday in Florida and played it to death. I imported her second album ‘Breakaway’ when it was released in the States and then bought it again upon it’s UK release (as well as buying multiple copies as gifts). My December, All I Ever Wanted, Stronger, Wrapped In Red – I’ve bought them all and loved every single one of them. So when Kelly announced her new single ‘Heartbeat Song’ and her seventh studio album ‘Piece By Piece’, that usual feeling of excitement and anticipation kicked in. So how does Piece by Piece sound and compare to her previous efforts?
The album opens with her current single and top 10 hit ‘Heartbeat Song’. Heartbeat Song is a really funny one, at times I absolutely love the song and could have it on repeat for hours and then other times, I can find it a little flat. The song has all the right ingredients for a hit song but I feel like there is something missing that prevents it from reaching that ‘OMG AMAZING’ status that most Kelly Clarkson songs are known for. The bridge is the best part of the song with Kelly showcasing her incredible vocals and the chorus is strong with excellent video game beeps in the production. Upcoming single ‘Invincible’ was written by Sia which I think is obvious by Kellys vocal performance. Her pronunciation sounds off in places as if she’s copying how Sia pronounces when she sings. I’m not going to lie, I HATED this song when I first heard it but it all makes sense when you listen through headphones and can hear all the little quirks in the production. It’s a great song but it’s the type of song I’d expect to find on an Idol winners album not seven albums into your career.
‘Someone’ sounds like a Ryan Tedder song but it’s not. Part of the production reminds me of the song ‘Heart Hypnotic’ by Delta Goodrem which was produced by Tedder. It’s a nice enough song but it doesn’t really go anywhere, there is no big moment and it kind of just plods on. ‘Take You High’ is an electro pop song which is an odd thing to hear on a Clarkson album. She’s done electro pop before but they always maintained that pop/rock sound that Kelly is known for. Take You High is a big electro pop affair with all the bells and whistles. I love the orchestral element to it, I’m a sucker for orchestral pop especially when it has a darker feel to it like it does here. I really like this song but this is the type of song that could be sung by anyone, it’s missing that element that makes it a Kelly Clarkson song. I could hear Demi Lovato singing this. Title track ‘Piece By Piece’ is the first track on the album to be co-written by Kelly and you can tell. This song has that Kelly Clarkson stamp of approval on it. It’s a beautifully written song with great lyrics and hooks. It’s these sort of songs that Kelly excels with, you can feel the emotion of the song pouring out of her vocals which I feel has been missing on the previous tracks. I like this song more after every listen. It’s the highlight of the album so far.
‘Run Run Run’ is a beautiful ballad which features the excellent John Legend. We’ve known about there being a duet for a while but only found out recently that it was John. A wonderful singer in his own right, his voice sounds exquisite blending with Kellys voice and a perfect fit for this song. I really love how this song slowly builds up in the production to it’s epic conclusion. I usually don’t like ballads but this has to be a single. ‘I Had A Dream’ starts off sounding like your standard pop/rock affair but it has an R&B undertone to it that reminds me a little bit of Alicia Keys. I originally felt like this was a filler track but the more I listen to it, the more I feel the personality of this song come through. ‘Let Your Tears Fall’ takes us back to the electro pop sound but this feels more like a fit for Kelly. It might be an electro pop song but it has that pure pop undertone to it that Kelly is known for. It’s a real toe tapper and you won’t be able to not nod your heard along to this.
I feel like ‘Tightrope’ belongs at the end of the album, it sounds like an album closer. This is a ballad that really showcases Clarksons vocal and songwriting talents. One of Kelly’s greatest skills is her ability to convey so much emotion through her vocal ability and you can really feel it here. I was really excited to hear ‘War Paint’ based simply by the title but I was quite disappointed with this song. It takes too long to get going, taking up to the second verse to kick it up a gear. It has the potential but the production is a bit flat and boring. ‘Dance With Me’ is what War Paint should have been. It’s unashamedly pop but it’s absolutely packed to the brim with energy. This song will be a great one to bounce around to if she performs to on tour. The opening of ‘Nostalgic’ really reminds me of ‘Disco Love’ by The Saturdays. An eighties disco pop song which I never thought I’d find on a Kelly Clarkson album. Like the previous track, this is unashamedly pop and it’s a great fun pop song. It does feel like an odd fit for Kelly, it’s the sort of song you’d expect to find on a teen pop singers album like Bridgit Mendler or Hilary Duff. The album closer ‘Good Goes The Bye’ is a pleasant mid-tempo song. I really like the production here, a perfect mix of electro pop and acoustics. It has a bit of a country feel to it which is quite cool and a nice closer to the album.
The deluxe version of the album contains three bonus tracks – Bad Reputation, In The Blue and Second Wind. Bad Reputation is a big ballsy show tune style jazz pop song. It is without a doubt the most standout song on this album and I love it for that. I love the sassiness to the song, it’s a real album highlight. Both In The Blue and Second Wind are pleasant enough but both instantly forgettable.
This album reminds me of her fourth album All I Ever Wanted when she pretty much recorded anything the label sent her way after they released My December. This is a nice enough pop album but it’s just not a Kelly Clarkson album. It has it’s moments with songs like Piece By Piece, Run Run Run and Bad Reputation but in general, the songs are faceless and despite Kelly sounding better than ever, they don’t have that Kelly Clarkson feel to them. Many of these songs sound like they’ve come straight from the pop hit factory floor with their shiny pop production. I fell in love with Kelly for her voice and her pop/rock sound which I’m gutted is barely present on this album. Obviously I expect artists to experiment with their sound but this album feels like a step back instead of a step forward. I kind of get the feeling that this was recorded so Kelly could complete her contract with RCA, get another deal and make the music she wants to. I’m hoping that the album will grow on me and I will come to love it but for those you like me who were looking for an epic sequel to ‘Stronger’, you’ll be disappointed.