The first (and still best) winner of American Idol, Kelly Clarkson has undeniably powerful pipes. Unfortunately, they’re too often used to deliver songs that aren’t as invigorating as her vocals. Notable exceptions have included “Since U Been Gone,” “Behind These Hazel Eyes,” and “My Life Would Suck Without You”—all hits handled by the production dream team of Dr. Luke and Max Martin. Neither of those producers can be found on Clarkson’s fifth album, Stronger; instead, Rodney Jerkins, Lauren Christy, and Andre Lindal do their best to conjure up the memory of “Since U Been Gone” on the similar-sounding “I Forgive You.” But it’s definitely a runner-up effort, much like the rest of Stronger. Nearly everything on Stronger is built to sound anthemic, with Clarkson belting out gale-force choruses about overcoming toxic relationships. But the album suffers from a heavily produced electro-sheen, and ends up feeling more manufactured than magical. The Katy Perry-ish “You Can’t Win” manages to sound relatively organic and human, and the epic sing-along groove of “Let Me Down” is a highlight. It’s too bad that the rest of Stronger is an actual letdown.
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