After all of the static flowing between Kelly Clarkson…championing her right to artistic expression…and Clive Davis, the president of her record company…wanting to make sure one of his biggest stars continues to churn out platinum sales and radio-friendly hits….all that really matters is the music.
And that music…My December…makes a case for both of their arguments. Clarkson co-wrote all of the songs (one report has Davis offering Clarkson a boatload of money if she would pull 5 tracks off the album and replace them with songs that Davis would find for her, an offer she is said to have declined out of hand) and she was in a kind of dark, angry place when they were written…the first three songs (including the first single, “Never Again”) are angry rockers that rail against wrongs done her. Kelly’s voice is strong and easily holds its own with the snarling guitars.
The bittersweet ballad “Sober”, underpinned by acoustic guitar, continues the confessional tone (…three months and I’m still sober…) of the CD building to an emotional mid-tempo crescendo. “Don’t Waste Your Time” has the pop-rock hook I imagine
As the title implies, the throbbing rocker “Judas” is about betrayal. It has a propulsive beat that draws you in even as the bite of the lyrics makes you glad the song wasn’t written about you. There are similar hooks to the sassy “Yeah” (with a synthesizer figure that evokes the sound of horns to fine effects) and “How I Feel”.
“Be Still”, a gentle ballad, takes a more hopeful stance and it sounds like it could be a hit to me (but what do I know?) On “Maybe”, another guitar-driven ballad that kicks into a mid-tempo groove halfway through, Kelly turns her gaze inward for some self-exploration and a hope for love in the future; “Can I Have a Kiss”, a crunchy power ballad, uses the whisper-to-a-controlled-scream thing nicely.
The online versions of the disc end with the acerbic “Dirty Little Secret” and two remixes (one for radio, one for clubs) of “Never Again”.
There is a yearning, assertive, and very adult sensibility to the songs on My December…which I think is Clarkson’s best record to date…that eschews teen pop for the sound of a rockin' singer-songwriter following her muse down whatever dark paths it will take her. I can see where Davis would be worried that there were no “hits” (at first blush, seems unlikely that this record will match the sales of her last one but I presume that Clarkson isn’t worried overmuch about that trusting that enough of her fans will be willing to follow her into new musical territory) but I give Clarkson props for sticking to her guns and putting out the record she wanted to…a record that shows that her growth as an artist is continuing in powerful and occasionally thrilling ways.