It’s been a bit since Kelly Clarkson released a full pop album. While it’s been nearly four years since her last record, the Grammy-winning Stronger, was released, Kelly has kept plenty busy. In 2012 we got her Greatest Hits: Chapter 1, and then in 2013 she released her first ever holiday album, Wrapped In Red. And while we didn’t get any new music from her in 2014, she was busy creating. She recorded nearly her whole album while pregnant with her first daughter. River Rose was born last June, but after six months off, Kelly is ready to get back out there with her new album, Piece By Piece.
Piece By Piece is an intriguing album from Kelly. It’s her most cohesive set of songs since 2007’s My December, yet at the same time they’re also all very diverse in style and mood. Piece By Piece is also a perfect blend of Kelly’s back catalog, as the songs draw on themes from each of Kelly’s first five albums. It has the soulful R&B touch of Thankful, the consistent energy and high quality of Breakaway, the emotion and thematic consistency of My December, the diversity and pop focus of All I Ever Wanted, and the calm strength and slight ’80s vibe of Stronger.
But there’s one thing you won’t find on Piece By Piece: Kelly’s signature big pop rock song with the belted bridge. There is no “Since U Been Gone” or “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” on this album. Instead, Kelly has moved on to different sounds, more subdued but just as emotional and grand. Kelly shows the versatility of her voice more on Piece By Piece, demonstrating more range, singing in different musical styles, and knowing when to control herself rather than always including her powerhouse belt.
Piece By Piece doesn’t feel like just a mix of Kelly’s previous music. It takes her a step further, showing tasteful experimentation along with the confidence and quality control of a seasoned pro. Piece By Piece showcases Kelly’s vocals, with her upper angelic register more prominent than ever. The album has a consistent ethereal atmosphere, and the frequent use of strings helps lend a cinematic and epic sound fit for the big screen.
Piece By Piece is Kelly Clarkson’s best album since My December, with just the right amount of personal emotion, empowering strength, and ethereal atmosphere.
Track By Track
1. “Heartbeat Song” – Piece By Piece opens with the first single, which was released in mid-January. It’s a simple song, but instead of Kelly’s signature breakup angst, she sings of love and newfound happiness. The verses are the best part, while the choruses slow it down. Kelly calls “Heartbeat Song” a bridge between Stronger and her new album. It’s a fun love song, if a bit safe.
2. “Invincible” – Kelly shows her empowering side on this mid-tempo track co-written by Sia. “Invincible” is ethereal and has some impressive vocals. Kelly’s voice is strong and soulful throughout, and the high notes at the end are amazing. As Kelly describes it, this song is “like ‘Stronger’ on steroids.” “Invincible” was the last song Kelly recorded for the album, and it is set to be the second single.
3. “Someone” – Kelly has had her breakup ballads throughout her career, but this may be the kindest one yet. In the verses she explains why what they had could never work out. But “Someone” isn’t a bitter ballad. Instead, Kelly wishes her ex the best, hoping that he will find someone that awakens a true, full love in him. It’s a sweet farewell to a relationship that just didn’t work.
4. “Take You High” – This is very different for Kelly, and one of the definite highlights on Piece By Piece. The music of “Take You High” is heavenly, with sweet strings backing Kelly’s high angelic voice. The lyrics, vocals, music – all come together to form a euphoric, lovely sound. It’s a song that fills you with joy and paints a movie scene in your head. But then Kelly surprises you again as the chorus ends: A sudden breakdown will come out of nowhere, as a kaleidoscope of chopped up vocal acrobatics brings “Take You High” into a more dance territory. This song may need a few listens to grow on you if you’re not one for surprises, but when it does it will hit you hard.
5. “Piece By Piece” – The title track is the most personal song on the album. Kelly wrote “Piece By Piece” after she had a conversation with her older sister; it’s about their father and troubled childhood. Kelly’s parents divorced when she was just 6, and she never had a good relationship with her dad. He left them and wasn’t part of her life. Kelly documented the effects that he had on her in her 2004 ballad, “Because Of You.” “Piece By Piece” is a sequel to that, bringing everything full circle. Kelly’s young life was broken by her uncaring father, but Kelly has found a good, loving husband who has helped her pick up the pieces her father left in her. What’s more is that, unlike her own father, her husband will be a great dad to their new daughter. The music of “Piece By Piece” takes a backseat so the words can take center stage. It’s a lyrical masterpiece not just on the album, but among all of Kelly’s songs.
6. “Run Run Run” (featuring John Legend) – The album suddenly slows down for this tragic, dramatic, melancholic ballad. Kelly recruited the soulful John Legend, and his voice blends perfectly with hers. The song is minimalistic at first, with simple piano backing up the more emotional vocals. But after the second chorus, “Run Run Run” picks up with clashing drums and screeching strings. It’s a cacophony of sound blasting at you, while Kelly and John sing on through the turmoil. “Run Run Run” is the type of dramatic ballad that belongs in a movie.
7. “I Had A Dream” – Kelly wrote the lyrics to this track about the expectations she had for herself and for her generation. She wishes we could be past racism, sexism, homophobia, and other issues by now, and yet we’re still stuck in the prejudiced and hateful past. Musically, “I Had A Dream” has a very Thankful-esque quality to it. It’s soulful and has a bit of an R&B sound. The music isn’t a highlight on the album, but the lyrics are great new territory for Kelly and are well-written.
8. “Let Your Tears Fall” – In contrast to the other song co-written by Sia, “Let Your Tears Fall” was the first song Kelly recorded for the album. Sia bookended Kelly’s recording process in a way! Like “Invincible,” this track is encouraging, but this time it’s for another person in need. Kelly sings to her downtrodden friend that no matter what, she’ll always be there for them. Through thick and thin, she’ll lend her shoulder to cry on and advice to help them through the situation. Kelly’s voice sounds sweeter and more pop than she normally does, rounding out the good-natured vibe of “Let Your Tears Fall.”
9. “Tightrope” – Piece By Piece slows back down for another ballad, this time written by Kelly. She wrote “Tightrope” a few years ago when she was in a different place. The song is fragile and mournful, and the beautiful imagery paints a slow-moving scene in your head. It starts as a simple, gentle ballad backed only by a piano, but it builds up to the second verse where Kelly strengthens her voice just briefly. A harp comes in towards the end, along with some high howling “ooh”s as “Tightrope” fades away as softly as it started.
10. “War Paint” – The tempo and mood both come back up for this pop rock anthem about being yourself. Kelly sings about “the mistake of our war paint,” saying that instead of hiding behind a false barricade, they should be real with each other. People often put up a veneer so that others will see them a certain way, but deep down we’re all the same. “War Paint” has energy the most similar to Breakaway, but it’s a modernized 2015 version of Kelly’s signature pop rock.
11. “Dance With Me” – This song starts well, with a fun guitar and great energy. The lyrics of lights around the world set the mood, and “Dance With Me” takes on a joyous, light ’80s vibe. It’s a simple, cheery throwback song. Despite the great start, the song loses a bit of the fun about halfway through. “Dance With Me” could stand to be a bit shorter, but otherwise it’s a good lighthearted song.
12. “Nostalgic” – A trick radio and stuttered music beginning is the perfect way to launch this ’80s styled song. This is another fun track that will amp you up and compel you to sing along. The music fits perfectly with the title, with a low-key, sugary pop rock vibe from the 1980s.
13. “Good Goes The Bye” – The standard edition of Piece By Piece ends with this breezy, synthy mid-tempo breakup song. The lyrics are interesting and poetic, but overall it’s a bit of a bland song compared to the rest of the album. It doesn’t provide an impactful end to Piece By Piece. Rather, it sounds like a nonchalant farewell for now.
14. “Bad Reputation” – Now we’re on to the deluxe edition of Piece By Piece. The first of the bonus tracks is not a cover of Joan Jett’s classic rocker, but rather is a new track co-written by Kelly. “Bad Reputation” is a fun song that harkens back to her funky, soulful American Idol and Thankful days. Kelly sets herself up as the touch chick that can take care of herself. She assures that “everyone knows that I don’t cry, you never see stars shining in my eyes.” She’s guarded and keeps her emotions close, but when love comes in she can’t hold back: “Now I’m smiling like a lovesick pup.” It’s a fun, sassy song about how much love can change a person, no matter how independent and tough. The horns add to this upbeat, soulful track.
15. “In The Blue” – Our second bonus track was also written by Kelly. The drums are put on the forefront in the song, playing prominently throughout the verses. Kelly again shows off her high, angelic vocals in the chorus, in her sweet ode to her long-lost love. She sings that “Your voice is loud as thunder, I can hear it crashing in my head” – this harkens back to the noticeable drums throughout the track. “In The Blue” is a lovely song and again shows Kelly’s strong writing abilities.
16. “Second Wind” – Though she didn’t write this one, the very last song can be applied to Kelly’s career. Despite all her success over the last 13 years, people still underestimate her. And yet Kelly always comes back stronger than ever – she always catches the second wind and proves people wrong. It’s a nice song and a good way to wrap up Piece By Piece.
Standout tracks: “Take You High,” “Piece By Piece,” “Invincible,” “Run Run Run,” “Tightrope,” “In The Blue”
You can buy Piece By Piece on iTunes now.