All I Ever Wanted
It’s hard to look at the cover of the new Kelly Clarkson album without thinking of an extra-large slice of humble pie. Two years ago, after ‘Since U Been Gone’ transformed her from a big-haired American Idol champ into an A-list pop star, Clarkson caught the buck-the-system bug, getting in touch with her inner goth-rock chick on the largely self-penned My December and waging a very public war of words with then-RCA chief Clive Davis. Unfortunately for future big-haired Idol winners, December didn’t sell well (at least by Clarkson’s sky-high standards); now All I Ever Wanted arrives fronted by an image of the singer in full shiny-and-sparkly mode. All that’s missing is Davis’s told-you-so grin.
That said, if Wanted was born from record-company pressure, it’s to Clarkson’s artistic credit that she injects these song-doctored confections with as much feeling as she gave December’s moodier meanderings.
In ‘My Life Would Suck Without You,’ she wails about the pleasures of bad love over Max Martin and Dr Luke’s surging robo-garage groove, while ‘Already Gone’ finds her comforting an ex as OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder deploys the same emo-soul production tricks he utilised for Leona Lewis’s ‘Bleeding Love’ and Beyoncé’s ‘Halo.’ On the title track, Clarkson even reveals herself as a closeted indie fan by re-jigging Spoon’s ‘I Turn My Camera On’ as an explosive tween-pop workout. Who knew compromise could be so much fun?
Available at www.7digital.com
From the stride masterworks of early jazz to the extemporised epics of Keith Jarrett, solo pianists have laid down a challenge that the current generation can’t ignore. On his third album, Portal, Daniel Kelly steps into the breach with 17 wholly improvised pieces – some less than a minute long, others more than five. They add up to a complete and well-formed thought, imbued with mystery as well as technical rigour.
Is it jazz? Arguably, given its tenacious open-form impulse, not to mention the syncopated rhythm and turbid harmony of ‘Burning Heart Inside’ and the shifting five-beat patterns of ‘Continuing On…’. But Kelly’s sweeping arpeggios and reiterative left-hand accompaniments affirm a strong classical influence.
His sure tempos steady the music’s dreaminess, and lend something of a unifying concept. There are flickers of Lisztian romanticism in ‘Turbulence’, Ravelian impressionism in ‘Removing The Veil Of Illusion’ and Bartókian folklore in ‘Magic Circle Dance’.
Kelly’s 2007 quartet disc, Duets With Ghosts, matched a fusiony edge with the sampled voices of dadaist poet François Dufrêne, Mississippi prison inmates and Kelly’s own great-grandfather. Portal is far more inward, its design as rich as it is unrepeatable.
David R Adler
Available at www.amazon.com