July 13, 2009

I Wish I Could Shave You

This past weekend I shut my eyes every time a Bruno commercial came on the television. I don’t know if they just really ramped up the advertising this past weekend to make sure that everyone remembers that HEY BRUNO CAME OUT AND THIS IS WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE AND WE’RE GOING TO KEEP SHOWING YOU THIS COMMERCIAL UNTIL YOU JUST GO SEE IT, or if it’s been like this for weeks and I just watch such little television. I do want to see the movie. I know I want to see it based on how much I enjoyed Borat, and that’s all. I don’t need incessant commercials to convince me any further. In fact, seeing all the jokes ahead of time would convince me to just until it comes out on DVD.

But you didn’t come here today to hear about movies, you came for the long awaited and painfully belated Kelly Clarkson album review. Like Bruno commercials, I've been avoiding all Kelly Clarkson reviews so I could come up with my own inarticulate over-hyphenated third-grade vocabulary-filled re-view-.

FIRST, I must give a quick update on My December album review from two years ago on Myspace that I linked some folks to earlier today. That last hidden track at the end of the album is actually called “Chivas” not “Shit List” or “Shivers” or whatever I thought I was hearing. I don’t know why I'm ashamed that I got it wrong—it’s not listed in the liner notes. She was allegedly drunk when she wrote it (video below) and I think I was drunk when I wrote the review, so it’s all good.

The two songs that I loved from the last album “Be Still” and “Can I Have a Kiss” were never released as singles. The single that was released (“Never Again”) did well, but did not hit number one. The second single, “Sober,” barely broke the top 100. Speaking of “Sober,” I’m getting a beer.

I was really rooting for her on that last album because she co-wrote all of the songs and then The Man told her it wasn’t good enough. She said it was and refused to change it. They put it out the way she wanted it, and in this story the good guys did not win. The Empire Struck Back. Ok, yeah, she sold a shitpotload of albums, but not nearly as many as the one before called Since U Been Gone and A Bunch of Other Hits Specifically Engineered So You’re Guaranteed to Love and Buy. Truth be told, and as you’ve probably (not) read in the last review, there really weren’t a lot of great songs on My December. Forget the hit machine that she was raging against. The majority of the songs were just blah.

Fast forward to Now, now. It’s obvious that the My December experiment affected Kelly Clarkson's pride because on All I Ever Wanted she's back with a vengeance. And by vengeance, I mean armed with a bunch of songwriters. 9 of the 16 songs (Deluxe version with 2 bonus tracks) were written entirely by someone else. On one hand, this sort of really pisses me off. Ok, on both hands it pisses me off.

Let’s begin the immersion.

“My Life Would Suck Without You” – The first time I heard this song I immediately thought “Since U Been Gone Pt. 2” and I looked Kelly in the face and I said, I said “Kelly,” I said “you let the terrorists win.” It was bad because it was a retread of an earlier hit. It was twice as bad because it the first single. It was three times as bad because it was a step backwards from the whole “I want to be a respected songwriter” stance on the last album. Remember back when Nickelback first started sucking cock and people were putting out recordings of two of their songs playing at the exact same time to expose how formulaic their garbage is? I just did a poor man’s version of that on YouTube with “My Life Would Suck Without U Been Gone” by playing both songs just to confirm my thoughts before I put them down on INTERNET PAPER. Their structures are really 90.210% the same. The dynamics and hooks are all basically in the same spots. SURPRISE! THEY’RE WRITTEN BY THE SAME FUCKING ROBOTS! Johnny Five and C-3PO for christ's sakes. Just because the lyrics are the polar opposite of “Since U Been Gone” doesn’t mean anything else is. You didn’t fool me!

Here’s what else I don’t like about the song—the fake drums. It's technically a dance pop song so I can suspend my disbelief in synths and drum machines, but there’s some super fake tomfillery in the last chorus instantly slaps me in the face. The fill sounds like my balls being thumped upon by cold wooden spoons. Yeah, think about that feeling for a while, boys.

After hearing that song on the radio, I immediately wrote off Kelly Clarkson’s integrity and said I would not buy the album, much like how I’m feeling about Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, Weezer, Queens of the Stone Age, and Tool these days. I’m not a fair weather fan, I just can’t be a sucker anymore. So that’s the end of the review.


A month later I heard a second single that is also not about sucking: “I Do Not Hook Up.” There’s another simple but catchy guitar intro here, but then, hmmm… some real drums. Some more layers added on building up to the chorus. A nice long chorus with some interesting changes--wait did she just say “I fuck deep”?

Therein became my half-a-month-long obsession. I was convinced that she said “I fuck deep” and blasted the song every single time I heard it on the radio. For weeks my life was consumed with either “F-F-F-Fuck her Face” or “I fuck deep.” Over and over and knitting and knitting and knitting. There was no way she was saying that on radio, right? I mean Britney got away with that “If You Seek Amy” nonsense (“See You Auntie”), but Kelly Clarkson couldn’t be flat-out slipping F-bombs onto top 40, could she?

Ok, I eventually looked up the real lyrics, but by then I was already down with the concept of I Fuck Deep. Like, I just don’t hook up, I FUCK DEEP. This theory can’t be repeated out loud without making a fist and punching your other hand for punctuation. I love this god damned song and everything it stands for, even if I am the one inventing what it stands for. I PWNED THIS SONG AND I PWN DEEP.

But then came the real bomb… it was written by Katy Perry. Fizzzzzzzzzzle. I hate Katy Perry, but I love the song. Waaaaahh. Here is where I found myself at the crossroads for the album. I couldn’t pretend that I don’t love this song, even knowing that Katy “Nazi Party Leader” Perry wrote it, but I didn’t feel comfortable supporting Kelly Clarkson relying on other people for hits when she sold me so hard on her songwriting potential from the last album. Rather than take a hard stance, I put the album on the fence and went back to listening to “Poker Face” 80 times a day (another post, another day).

The end.

(Of that chapter.)

VIRGIN SMEGMASTORES closing sale featured discounts on albums. This included new albums. I was going there 17 hundred thousand times a week, so I considered buying anything I sort of wanted if it was a good enough deal. All I Ever Wanted was abundant and available for preview, so I took advantage. I skipped past the first two singles and I heard some good rock tracks. The price was right, but I still mulled it over for a while. I think the deciding factor was the potential for a ridiculous 2300+ word blog entry. And the pink cover.

The next day I tore it open and listened to the CD on the way to work. It turned out that the tracks which sold me on the album the night before were really not so hot after all. I guess it was loud in the store and the headphones were not so great, so my buyer’s remorse began to set in. “Don’t Let Me Stop You” felt too similar to “Behind These Hazel Eyes,” but with way too many lyrics. “Already Gone” reminded me of Beyonce’s dull “Halo” song. Same slow boring piano progression and uninspired chorus. “If I Can’t Have You” is too electro-poppy for me. Everything annoys me about “Whyyawannabringmedown”--the title, the lyrics (“I’m not your love monkey”?), the count-off en español, the cheap hand claps, the vocal effects, the shitty fuzzed out pseudo indie rock guitar riffs, and the unnecessary background vocals contributed by one of the songwriters (who is coincidentally now promoting the same song as re-recorded by his own band on myspace=lame).

I’ve said enough bad things. Here is What I Like About U. The first song that stuck out to me as really good (besides “I Fuck Deep”) is “I Want You.” There’s a ton of production, but it’s all really fun. The song itself is pretty simple, but it’s so damn happy. I guess I like it for the same reasons as that Natasha Bedenfield song “These Words.” It’s pure sugary pop, but it somehow sounds like nothing else out there. AND just when you think it’s over, it goes on for another 30 seconds. It’s possible that Kelly Clarkson happened to have another lyrical couplet laying around that she refused to toss out, or maybe she read my last review that talked about “Be Still” needing to go on longer. Either way, thumbs up.

“Ready” also has some interesting instrument sounds and production in the verses. It’s an extremely normal structure but with a lot of nice touches. I should take this time to point out that her vocals are excellent throughout the whole album. That never comes into question (except for “Whyyawannasingaweakrocksong”). She seems to sing so effortlessly. Her harmonies are very well constructed and always fresh. I mean, her singing is already perfect. The only way to screw it up is to make her sing a crappy uninspired song.

“Save You” is another fantastic track. I discovered today that it is basically the same chord progression as “Ready,” but I won’t let that diminish how good the song is. The drums don’t come in until over a minute into the song which makes them feel extra powerful. There is an abundance of snare rolls throughout the second verse which approach the verge of distraction but never cross the line. That drumming (along with the extended solo drumming at the end) reminds me of the song “Titanic” by New End Original. The chorus may be corny, but it fits. There’s also a very bizarre bridge. The instruments fade out, then piano, strings and vocals take over at a completely different tempo. The lyrics here seem like throwaways (I don’t ever want to hear the rhymes “change,” “same,” and “pain” again), but I still applaud the nonconformity that pushes the boundaries of a fairly traditionally structured song. Coming out of the bridge, everything magically matches up again (It really will “be all right”) and we have a great, but clearly non-Top 40 song.

What else? “All I Ever Wanted” is funky and bassy with a breakdown that sounds like Kelly Clarkson trapped under the glass of a pinball machine. “Long Shot” is even wordier than “If I Can’t Have You” but way more effective (curse you again Katy Perry). The chorus lyrics again seem pretty generic, but we hit it with such good momentum that I can over look the blandness. Don’t worry, I won’t be buying any Katy Perry albums. I can’t stand her vocal delivery.

“Cry” is a decent power ballad that shows up too soon on the album. (While I’m on the subject, “I Do Not Hook Up” should be the first track, not the second.) “If No One Will Listen” is a fairly predictable ballad, but at least it's in the right place—at the end. “Impossible” is meh. There are two bonus tracks that don’t really do anything for me except remind me of the great Kilbacca album “Ride on the Tip of My Tongue.” (By the way, the Deluxe Edition is not really worth the extra money, there’s nothing particularly amazing on the DVD.)

What have I learned from this? I don’t know. I can’t draw any absolute conclusions like “I like all the songs that Kelly Clarkson co-wrote” or “She should put the pen down and just stick to singing.” Well, it’s obvious that she should stick to singing, but as for the writing part, I really don’t know. I should just call a song a song and not worry about who wrote it until after I hear it. Even then, I shouldn’t worry so much. Just like I’m refusing to read anyone else's review of this album until after I finish mine, I shouldn’t really add any extra bias before or after. I mean, it bums me out to see so many people’s names on the songwriting credits, but I guess that’s what works for her. I’m sure she’s come to terms with it, so why shouldn’t I? There’s no doubt that the girl can sing for real. This certainly isn’t going to be my album of the year, but there’s more a few damn good songs here. She’s going to have an amazing Greatest Hits album (if they just let me pick the track listing). See? I'm part of the problem. I guess I'm still learning how to listen to a pop album.

I'm going to go read other reviews now and see what the other humanoids have to say. I encourage you to NOT do the same and just think of this as the definitive Kelly Clarkson review.

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