In the years since her notorious American Idol win, Kelly Clarkson’s career has been nothing short of dynamic. With chart topping successes like “Since You’ve Been Gone”, and commercial flops like My December, the singer has experienced her fair share of high and low points. But after thirteen years of servitude to the Idol machine, she fulfilled her contract with RCA and was finally free to pursue other opportunities. By the summer of last year, she’d already signed a new deal with Atlantic Records and was hard at work on her eighth studio album. The new record, Meaning of Life, dropped this past friday. And simply put, the album is fierce, fresh, and a downright Lemonade level of good.

From the very first seconds of the intro “A Minute” we know something is different.  Right from the beginning, it’s clear that Clarkson is tapping into a soulfulness we’ve never heard from her before. And as the intro gives way to the album’s first track and spankin’ new single “Love So Soft”, you immediately wonder why it took almost fifteen years for us to get it.  By the time we hear “Meaning of Life”, the record’s titular track, one is left awestruck. The song is a powerhouse – a vocal driven, harmony-heavy, “take-me-to-church” kind of tune that feels both sensual and spiritual. On the more reflective “Move You”, things calm down a little, but the emotion remains ever-present. Here, Clarkson delivers a vocal performance that’s unlike anything she’s ever done. In certain moments and inflections, one could swear it was Pink–albeit a more subdued, less pissed off version.

Clarkson_1The album’s most powerful moment comes with “Whole Lotta Woman” –an unapologetic anthem undoubtedly aimed at the recent body shaming Clarkson endured after the birth of her son. For any woman of size this song is a proclamation of pride. With vocals that would rival some of Beyonce’s biggest hits, Clarkson delivers some straight up southern swag. “Pot full of grits, I’m hotter than your mamma’s supper boy,” she insists. “Better get with it, better watch your mouth. I might burn you boy,” she warns. And as we make our way through the rest of the record–through the smooth, mature ballads like “Slow Dance”, and through banger after powerful banger–one can’t help but wonder: “Is this the Kelly Clarkson that was always waiting to come out? Is this the woman that was held back by all that contractual red tape?”  Because if it is, it’s a downright disservice to humanity that she was silenced for so long. It’s everything wrong with the music business that no one heard this voice from this woman until now. In what’s sure to go down in history as the singer’s most impressive release of her career, Meaning of Life is a breathtaking achievement that leaves listeners not entirely sure if the woman singing is the same girl that won American Idol all those years ago.

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