Meaning of Life is Kelly Clarkson’s eighth album and her debut for Atlantic Records, after successfully completing her recording contract and ‘American Idol’ commitments with RCA Records. It is thought of as an album that Kelly has always wanted to make. This album is a broad, old-school, soul inflection full of modern touches. Full of distorted vocals, looped hooks and pitched melodies. Clarkson and executive producer, Craig Kallman (Atlantic’s CEO), deliver just that. Meaning of Life is very pop-soul oriented, with Clarkson’s full-throated vocals on a great repertoire of dynamic ballads and brassy up-tempo tracks.
This intimate pop release is full of confidence. The production is thoroughly modern, blending retro flourishes and crisp electronics. Clarkson truly ‘ushers in a more soulful phase with loads of class’. Clarkson sings masterfully, on Meaning of Life, however at times, the busy music beneath her doesn’t get a chance to breathe and be showcased.
The song Heat is pure unadulterated joy, while Medicine is a 90’s-era Mariah Carey-inspired track, which she purges a lover from her system. Cruel is a solid mid-tempo ballad with that modern 2017 sound drum beat, which allows Clarkson plenty of room to find different twists and turns in the melody.
The production finds just the ideal sweet spot on the track Slow Dance, where the listener can actually sense there’s a real band playing. Clarkson has said she wanted to make the kind of record a young Aretha might have made if she were starting out in 2017, but just imagine the results if Clarkson had targeted the 1967 Aretha version!
There is swinging from breezy finger-snap seduction on Love So Soft, which has a hip-hop feel that interludes to the full surrender on the smitten, take-me-to-church title track, Meaning of Life. Here she delivers a divine vocal track, commanding more respect from a partner. ‘Am I supposed to close my eyes and fall asleep when you’re not home? ‘Cause I wanna believe you, but I wonder if you’re all alone.’
The album’s closer and surprisingly experimental song, Go High interpolates Michelle Obama’s classic ’When they go low, we go high’ to end on an optimistic note’. The track resonates with a timely message that makes sense in the current political landscape and with Clarkson’s career.
Make no mistake; this is notably a fine release and Kelly has clearly discovered a pure meaning to her life. It is not defined by any man who holds her and brings her purpose. Instead, she has found it in vibrant rhythms, bold productions and thrilling runs. Kelly Clarkson has created something that will easily be one of the brightest records of 2017.
Review by Rob Lyon