The first American Idol, Kelly Clarkson, continues to be living proof that the TV show wasn’t a complete joke, at least not in the beginning. With over 9 million copies of her first three albums sold in the United States alone, Clarkson looks to increase that number with the recent release of her fourth full-length album, All I Ever Wanted. Fortunately for Clarkson, the album is just enjoyable enough to draw the masses to the CD section of Best Buys and Targets, or to the iTunes Store.
Unfortunately, just enjoyable enough does not qualify All I Ever Wanted as an unprecedented success. In fact, there is nothing unprecedented about the album, and it is only marginally successful. Like most pop albums created simply for commercial consumption, All I Ever Wanted hosts a balance of hit songs and complete throwaways to pad out a “full” album of 10-plus tracks, limiting it to the low expectations of the typical pop album standard. While almost all of the songs are at least bearable, about half lack personality or innovation of sound so severely that listing them by track title would be an injustice, implying they actually have a name that is worth remembering.
This is not to say All I Ever Wanted lacks catchy, experimental hit songs. The widely popular first single from the album, “My Life Would Suck Without You,” despite sounding suspiciously similar melodically to “Since U Been Gone,” follows the typical energizing Clarkson template we’ve come to know — big choruses, catchy beats and simple lyrics about messed up relationships. It’s not a new sound, but it’s a damn good one.
Contrarily a few tracks stray from Clarkson’s typical pop-rock sound with pleasing results. While not as memorable as Depeche Mode’s or Basshunter’s similarly titled songs, Clarkson’s “All I Ever Wanted” lends a darker effect to her voice with heavier guitar and drum effects. “If I Can’t Have You” is by far the album’s best track, and also the most unlike anything Clarkson has done before. Opening with a fast tempo electric guitar intro matched to clapping, the song then gives way to a steady drumbeat and a highly synthesized Clarkson, creating a dark yet very catchy pop-rock song with an appropriately modernized ’80s feel.
Unlistenable tracks are thankfully scarce. “I Do Not Hook Up” is declaration of sexual integrity, with inane, juvenile lyrics. “You wanna chase/ But you’re chasing your tail/ A quick fix won’t ever get you well,” not surprisingly written by Katy Perry. Why anyone thought taking a song from her would be a good idea remains a grand mystery. “I Want You” is even worse. It attempts to make an upbeat song, but the whimsical beat of chimes and children singing “la-la-la” in the background has the sole effect of creepiness and discomfort.
Spanning the whole album, the good tracks and the bad, are three common elements: Clarkson’s consistently impressive vocal abilities, a low quality of lyrics and the generally smart employment of symphony. Clarkson’s abilities as a vocalist in terms of range and power are among the best of current pop artists, a claim further attested to on All I Ever Wanted. However, she often feels simply like a voice, emitting words that lack personality and emotion because they are not her own. Although Clarkson did contribute to the writing process on several of the tracks, only “Cry” and “Already Gone” convey any glimpse of her soul. Most of the rest, even the melodically successful tracks, consist of straightforward, simple lyrics about romantic woes and are fraught with overdone rhyming. Lastly, the use of a variety of strings, mostly violins and cellos in several songs adds a depth to Clarkson’s musicality that had yet to be explored.
A powerhouse singer capable of delivering No. 1 pop-rock hits to be sure, Clarkson has yet to show us she is much more than the commercial device of the music industry. Then again, maybe that’s not what we want from her, so long as she continues providing us with must-have tracks, of which there are several on All I Ever Wanted.
3 1/2 stars out of 5.