Like the audience for “American Idol,” which made her a star, Kelly Clarkson moves into schmaltzy adult-contemporary territory on her new album, “Piece By Piece.”
Kelly Clarkson, ‘Piece By Piece’ (RCA)
In the 13 years since “American Idol” came on the air, its following has aged, with most viewers north of 35. First-season winner Kelly Clarkson is older now, too — 33 in April.
Still, the Texan’s best material remains her most youthful. “Heartbeat Song,” which opens her seventh album “Piece by Piece,” is the stuff of high-school prom playlists, its descending melody a dead ringer for Jimmy Eat World’s 2001 mall-punk smash “The Middle.” When the all-together-now chorus kicks in, you can practically visualize fireworks going off.
Unfortunately, adult-contemporary schmaltz — like the title track, a soft-rock ode to married life and motherhood — bogs down the rest of the album. “I Had a Dream,” which preaches the importance of good behavior, but comes off like a talking-to from mom and dad. An hour’s worth of anything this syrupy is enough to give even a superfan a stomachache.
Moot points? Probably. Clarkson’s music is virtually critic-proof. Dating back to ’02, there’s been only one year she hasn’t charted, with 91 No. 1s and counting. Her success has paved the way for mainstream pop’s next wave of wholesome, self-assured female voices, like Taylor Swift and Meghan Trainor. But given the 2-1 ratio of ballads to bangers on “Piece,” the median age of her own audience — like the “Idol” audience — promises to only increase.
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