Kelly Clarkson Returns With Soulful Stomper ‘Meaning Of Life’

Kelly Clarkson has always been a performer where the persona is more than just a look or stage presence. She has the pipes to back it all up. Her new album, “Meaning of Life,” is a blast of pure pop infused with a driving rhythm and soul force. The subject matter is what we would expect from Clarkson, love, melodramatic yearnings, the heat of physical contact. But if an artist knows how to express a particular subject well, why change it up? 

“Meaning of Life” kicks off with “Love So Soft,” an exhilarating, seductive hand-clapper with an irresistible hook. “I need to know that you protect me/respect me/if I let you close,” Clarkson warns, “let me in/I wanna be closer/let you under my skin,” she sings before flowing into an edgy chorus. It calls on us to dance while pondering the value of love. “Heat,” follows it up with the kind of fun jam where weather is a stand in for making a point. “I’m slipping out of your fingers/Cooling down like November. Give me one good reason why I should need you.” 

Where the album truly shines is in the moments when the volume is toned down and Clarkson ventures into the rich landscape of soulful ballads. “Move You” is a lush, evocative track where her voice takes on a pensive, emotional depth. The production is  simpler here, brushing aside the decoration to let Clarkson’s voice stand on its own. The only weak sections come when Clarkson tries too hard to find a metaphor instead of conveying the idea simply, telling her lover that she wants to move them like “a soldier who is fallen/as he holds his country’s flag/and he fights for freedom’s calling/I want to move you like that.” It’s a  bit too much icing on the cake, but the vocals soar, framed by subtle strings and a delicate sax.

“Cruel” features a sound that is pure throwback to the Motown production of the 1970s. There are moments which would have made The Delfonics proud. “Would You Call That Love” even opens with a vintage, marimba-like sound before sliding into a modern, electronic bass thump.

Clarkson also takes on a hint of danger in songs like “Whole Lotta Woman,” a fierce track with a Led Zeppelin-worthy vocal combined with a gospel out of hell atmosphere. It’s pure girl power with a mockingly rebellious energy. Disco strings combine with a southern choir as Clarkson snarls “I can’t do a thing about my wicked ways with gravity.” There is a powerful confidence in “Whole Lotta Woman” as Clarkson celebrates identity.

“Medicine” is another clench-fisted dismissal of love gone wrong. It’s the kind of song that expresses everything we have ever wanted to fire at someone who just didn’t care. “Don’t talk about you/almost forgot about you,” Clarkson sings with a dark undertone.

Yet “Meaning of Life” is an album capable of moments of true tenderness. “Slow Dance” is an atmospheric track that pulsates with pure romanticism. “How did you go/from being a momma’s boy/to being a lady’s man/Not going home with you tonight/but you can hold my hand,” sings Clarkson with a beautiful, sentimental range. The words are clear and direct, without the need for the kind of overdone metaphors in some of the other tracks. The production is gorgeous and lush, with a delicate drum and vintage keyboard that decorates the song in pure ambiance. A milky guitar solo brings it home with real elegance.

“Meaning of Life” is aptly titled, as the songs celebrate themes of love, loss and the importance of life’s little moments. But the album is a lot of fun with sections that exude both a blistering energy and pure bliss. With “Meaning of Life” Clarkson again confirms she is no fluke, and never was. She’s the real deal, now producing a deeper brand of pop that will mend hearts and fuel daydreams for a long time to come.

Meaning Of Life” is avaiable Oct. 27 on Apple Music.