Kelly Clarkson, "Stronger" (RCA Records)
Kelly Clarkson has been wowing audiences with her powerful voice since she burst onto the scene as the first "American Idol" winner a decade ago. Since then, the dynamic singer has sold millions by making female empowerment anthems her mantra, from booming pop-rock songs that call for women to stand up for themselves to finger-wagging tunes that tell not-good-enough men that they're not good enough.
Clarkson's fifth studio album, "Stronger," addresses the same issues with a "richer and fuller" sound than usual: Clarkson said she wanted to sound like she does when performing live, without employing any of the modern day tuning aides. The result is a more natural sound that allows her already explosive voice to bloom even more.
The record is full of danceable tracks that just won't budge from your humming repertoire. Whether it's pop, rock, 1980s riffs or electro streaks, "Stronger" has all the ingredients for a well-balanced offering. Clarkson worked on the eclectic record with a variety of A-list producers such as Rodney Jerkins, Greg Kurstin, Josh Abraham, and Toby Gad. She also co-wrote five of the album's tracks.
First single "Mr. Know It All" hits all the right notes by going for the jugular, with lyrics like "You ain't got the right to tell me/ When and where to go," and "Mr. Bring me down/ Well ya like to bring me down don't ya/ But I ain't laying down." Along the way, her unstoppable voice channels Bonnie Tyler and Tori Amos in "Honestly," which urges for complete disclosure (even if the truth hurts); "I Forgive You" and "You Can't Win" sound like they were made for the soundtrack of an adorable rom-com.
Only Clarkson can beguile with a ballad like "Dark Side," half music box chimes, half pop anthem. "Everybody has a dark side/Do you love me?/Can you love mine?" After a listen to "Stronger," the answer is a definitive "yes."
CHECK OUT THIS TRACK Give "Einstein" a listen and discover everyone's new favorite and easy to remember equation: "Dumb plus dumb equals you." How's that for math?