Album Review: Kelly Clarkson – “Piece by Piece”

Album Review: Kelly Clarkson – “Piece by Piece”

Artist: Kelly Clarkson
Album: Piece by Piece
Genre: Pop
Date of Release: 27th February 2015
Reviewer: Khaleesi
For Fans Of: Carrie Underwood, Natasha Bedingfield

Track Listing:
1. Heartbeat Song – 3:18
2. Invincible – 3:58
3. Someone – 3:39
4. Take You High – 4:20 (blaze it)
5. Piece by Piece – 4:17
6. Run Run Run (featuring John Legend) – 4:32
7. I Had A Dream – 3:58
8. Let Your Tears Fall – 3:55
9. Tightrope – 3:32
10. War Paint – 3:44
11. Dance With Me – 4:20
12. Nostalgic – 3:37
13. Good Goes the Bye – 3:21

After several months spent stressing over university assignment deadlines, I can finally sit back and talk shit on music. Today I am celebrating the end of semester with Kelly Clarkson (:/). Before the rest of you keyboard warriors out there judge me for reviewing an album which came out towards the beginning of 2015, I would just like to say that this is a request from the one and only Chris Giacca … because apparently he loves her so much that this review wouldn’t be as enjoyable if he wrote it himself and made it disturbingly positive, so here we are. Piece by Piece is her seventh studio album and is also the first album since 2011 to contain original songs as opposed to covers. Listening to this album was rather interesting because it felt like she was still trying to impress Simon Cowell with her amazing voice and ‘versatility’, even though she won American Idol THIRTEEN YEARS AGO!

First things first (I’m not quoting Iggy Azalea here), I’m going to state the obvious: Kelly Clarkson has an amazing voice. While I’m not a fan, I have to concede that the chick can sing. She did win the first ever season of American Idol, after all. As well as this, she definitely knows what sort of songs are best for her vocal style because each and every song showcases her great talent. There were also really great harmonies between the backing vocals and the lead vocals in each track, particularly in ‘Heartbeat Song’, ‘I Had A Dream’, and ‘Nostalgic’. I also have to say Kelly Clarkson and John Legend sounded great together in ‘Run Run Run’. There were great harmonies and they had a really strong chemistry. However, I feel like if you’re going to collaborate with John Legend, you’re going to a get a great sounding ballad out of it. I mean look at Meghan Trainor and Sam Smith – they collaborated with John Legend and their songs received a whole lot of airplay. One can only imagine what would happen if Kelly had released ‘Run Run Run’ as a single.

After listening to Piece by Piece, it was very clear this seemed to be a concept album, because the majority of the songs were about empowerment, personal struggles, and heartbreak. Personally I found this to be rather annoying because it was very similar to past songs like ‘Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)’, ‘Breakaway’, and ‘Already Gone’, and it felt like empowerment, personal struggles and heartbreak were the only topics that Kelly could sing about. Then I did some research and found out Piece by Piece actually is a concept album about empowerment, personal struggles, and heartbreak, so of course the lyrical content was going to be very similar throughout the album. Despite this, it felt very formulaic for Clarkson, as she’s apparently been singing about the same topics since 2003. I think it got to the point where we had to rely on The Script and Martin Luther King’s famous ‘I Had A Dream’ speech for ‘I Had A Dream’.

It also became very clear to me that Kelly Clarkson was starting to venture out of her typical pop-rock sound from the past because there was certainly a lot less guitar heard than in Clarkson’s previous singles. Where there was guitar, it wasn’t that much to be impressed by. Sure there was some clean guitar, and there was some distorted guitar, but it just wasn’t memorable. There was some orchestral elements throughout the album but that wasn’t really memorable either.

While the guitar was less evident in Piece by Piece, so was the bass. I feel as though the bass is the sacrificial lamb of pop music. This is because the writers and the producers want to put so many flashy elements in there that the bass gets lost in all the different noises we hear. Saying that, we all know it’s there because there is some substance there that doesn’t make each song sound incredibly grainy and potato-like. As well as this, the bass is expected to sound somewhat decent, especially when there’s so many EDM elements because that is essentially just using a computer and it will sound perfect automatically.

In Piece by Piece there is a lot of synth and piano used throughout the entire album. It was obvious that Kelly Clarkson was venturing into EDM which is very much on trend with mainstream music. I guess she has to do that in order to stay relevant. The use of synth definitely helped with the songs sounding a little more upbeat like in ‘Take You High’, ‘Let Your Tears Fall’, ‘War Paint’, and ‘Dance With Me’. This pleased me because most of the songs I hear from Clarkson are ballads and are rarely upbeat, and I am more inclined to enjoy upbeat songs (I guess it’s because of my background as a jazz/hip hop dancer). The synth hooks were quite catchy and I enjoyed listening to those elements of those songs, aside from being distracted by Kelly’s vocals. The use of piano was a nice contrast to the synth. A few of the tracks had piano as the main (and sometimes sole) instrumental element (i.e. ‘Run Run Run’ and ‘Tightrope’) which sounded nice and assisted with letting the vocals shine through and be the only thing you really pay attention to.

The percussion elements were very pop-based to say the least. The rhythm and tempo of the percussion was a bit basic and quite subdued when I felt like they should’ve been a little more intense and hard-hitting in some tracks, such as ‘Heartbeat Song’ and ‘Invincible’. I know you want to really focus on the vocals and nothing else, but come on. There was also a couple of times where the percussion was very much like a marching band which is rather common in pop music. Where is the originality? In all honesty, the percussion was decent but not that impressive.

In terms of song-writing, I don’t know if I should really comment. In all of the reviews I have done so far the artist had either written all or the majority of the songs on the album. Kelly contributed to only three out of the fourteen tracks. This doesn’t surprise me because most pop singers don’t write their own content and rely on other people. When you have professional song-writers writing stuff for you of course it’s going to be decent, otherwise you wouldn’t be singing it would you? I guess for a concept album the song-writing was alright. Can’t really say much when I got annoyed about everything sounding so similar.

The production for Piece by Piece: I don’t know, I guess it was okay. It’s mainstream pop music, of course it’s going to sound decent. But it does seem that all of the instruments had their volume turned down or the vocals were turned up. The vocals were quite dominant throughout the whole album and everything else was a bit muffled. The tracks could also have been better arranged. I was about to fall asleep after five ballads in a row and very little sign of a upbeat song. I also think it’s pretty bad to end the album with a break up song. You want the last song to be so great that the listener is left with that song in their head afterwards so why make it a sad break up song? The only person that can get away with that is Adele.

As you can probably tell by the size of the paragraphs in this review, I did not have a lot of interest in Piece by Piece. I was annoyed that everything sounded so similar to each other so I guess that means I’m not going to be too keen on concept albums in the future. I was disappointed that the instrumental track was muffled throughout the album and wasn’t as hard hitting and impactful as it could have been. The individual elements were okay but altogether I didn’t enjoy it that much. If you like Kelly Clarkson, or artists that are similar to her, you’ll probably enjoy it more than I did. Sorry Giacca, I have not been converted into a Kelly Clarkson fan. I do hope that she continues with her venture into EDM because that was very interesting and had potential to make the album more enjoyable for me to listen to.

Vocals: 8/10
Lyrics: 6/10
Guitar: 5/10
Bass: 5/10
Synth/Piano: 6/10
Percussion: 6/10
Songwriting: 6/10
Production: 5/10
Personal Enjoyment: 3/10
Overall IPHYB Rating: 6/10
Here is the deluxe version of Piece by Piece with some bonus tracks for you to check out.

Album Review: Kelly Clarkson – “Piece by Piece”
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Carly Laden

Carly Laden

I'm keeping you in the loop with the mainstream world of music and your guilty Spotify private-browsing pleasures.
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