9 Kelly Clarkson Tracks That Prove a Soul Album Could Be Just The Ticket
The princess of breakup pop-rock is angling to be the next queen of radio-soul.
Friday (June 24), after a week of teasing the details surrounding her career's next step, Kelly Clarkson announced she'll kick off a brand new contract under Atlantic Records with a 2017 soul-pop album. For American Idol fans who watched Kelly win the show's inaugural 2002 season having sung the likes of Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye, it was a long time coming. For newer followers who have only come around as recently as Breakaway and "Since U Been Gone," though, the news may have registered as a bit of a head-scratcher.
Though Kelly routinely covers other artists' soul-inflected tracks onstage (Patty Griffin's "Up to the Mountain" and Marc Broussard's "Home" are two of her career's most outstanding vocals), her own catalog has been largely defined by electric guitar-heavy pop grit and, more recently, radio-requisite synth bops. Still, across seven albums, she's offered hints of commercial R&B and soul-pop that might collectively give her next LP a bit of context.
Look back at nine preexisting tracks — between 2003's Thankful and 2015's Piece By Piece — that could inform the next Clarkson-chapter.
"What's Up Lonely"
The Thankful track rests on bluesy R&B production and percussive claps that were a hallmark of countless early-aughts pop offerings (think Christina Aguilera's "Come on Over"). Not a standout, but a vessel through which Kelly's sultrier vibes shined through early on.
With vocals that packed enough punch to split bricks, the eponymous 2003 track didn't need more than simple guitar accompaniment to captivate. It's low-key coffee shop jam at its prime...if the coffee shop jam was also a bulldozer that proceeded to plow its way to the parking lot.
"You Thought Wrong"
Kelly and her biggest Season 1 Idol competition, Tamyra Gray, made for their own mini-En Vogue with the 2003 rip-him-to-shreds tell-off. It's gutsy, relentless and the type of thing you'd want to hear while trashing your ex's apartment a la "Since U Been Gone."
It was a big ol' Breakaway hit, and the first time a Kelly gave radio a hint of her hipper influence. The verses might be more mainstream pop, but there's no denying the bluesy quality of the bridge, which delivers sincere organ-backed funk.
On an album otherwise dominated by Kelly's 2007 rock-rebellion, "Yeah" gave My December something unusually sexy. It's a volley between throaty sustained yells and whispery purrs, made all the more intriguing for its few moments of falling completely off-tempo.
"Why Don't You Try"
In what has recently become a strange trend of Kelly's catalog, Stronger's most powerful vocal was relegated to a glossed-over, iTunes-specific bonus track. Featuring Hugh McCracken's masterful guitar work, the song — a no-nonsense R&B ballad — is a highlight of the singer's career, even though she's only ever performed it live once.
The lyrics are a collective exercise in cringe-work, but the 2011 track is a fiery, eyes-closed callback to "You Thought Wrong." Kelly's excitement to let loose from Stronger's simpler progressions is clear — here, she adopts a don't-mess-with-me identity that doesn't exist anywhere else on the LP. It's the collection's requisite Oh, right, she can do those types of spot-second leaps concession.
"I Had a Dream"
A little sanctimonious, but still a worthy listen for some of Piece By Piece's more ambitious vocals. Again, it's a total anomaly the 2015 LP, which otherwise rests mainly on glittery dance-pop, but you can hear just how glad Kelly is to have sneaked at least one impassioned R&B-pop airstrike onto the final list.
Again, an ignored bonus track. Again, one of the most powerful vocals of Kelly's career.
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