Kelly Clarkson gets intimate with her inner badass

After all the hype and (negative) buzz around Kelly Clarkson‘s newest album, My December, which is officially available today, you might be forgiven for being sick of all the gossip and/or prejudging it as a pissy attempt to throw off the reins of her big bad corporate boss, Clive Davis.

Or, if you’re like me, after having read all the self-possessed, strong-minded things Kelly has said lately, you couldn’t wait to get your hands on the actual album and make your own judgments about Miss Independent’s third album. Now that I’ve carefully listened to it (you can too at AOL or MuchMusic), I have to say that I agree with Blender and Entertainment Weekly, who gave the CD quite positive reviews. My December is certainly not the pop album that Breakaway was, but anybody who expected her to repeat "Since U Been Gone" has been smoking too much fantasy crack.

How do you follow a chart-topping smash like that one? With an album like My December in which you declare, "I wanna do it my way, and you’re gonna listen to me, dammit." Think of how much worse it would be to have a follow-up album full of songs that just aren’t quite as good as "Since U Been Gone." Everybody would have laughed at her. Nobody’s laughing now; they’re too busy being surprised at how angry and bitter Kelly can be.

If the opening line on your new CD is "I hope the ring you gave to her turns her finger green," you’re definitely setting the stage for some messy relationship processing.

Not everyone loves it, of course. The New York Times panned My December, stating, "what’s missing is the sense of fun that turned her old hits (even the accusatory ballad ‘Because of You’) into karaoke favorites." But I think they may have missed some of Kelly’s sense of humor.

In "How I Feel" (incidentally the only song on the album with gender-specific lyrics), Kelly declares: "I don’t want to hear about your wonderful life/And babies everywhere I look/Trophy wives with their little black books/At this rate I’m gonna end up alone." OK, she’s a little bitter, but when she sings "at this rate I’m gonna end up alone," I could hear the sarcasm in her voice. She’s making fun of herself and her self-pitying bitterness in a low-key, sardonic way that actually cracked me up.

As Blender (which gave the album four stars) said, "’Since U Been Gone" announced Clarkson’s transformation from technically gifted schlock merchant, but as far back as her early hit ‘Miss Independent,’ the inaugural Idol had found her big theme: the way exhilarating self-sufficiency and crushing loneliness are never far apart. Here, she explores this bind in engrossing detail."

And it’s true: The songs on My December seem like a peek into Kelly’s tortured personal breakup journal. But what makes this all OK and not entirely annoying is the fact that the lyrics, which could be criticized for being overly dramatic, actually sound honest. In "Maybe," Kelly pleads for acceptance from her lover, but it could also be a plea for acceptance from her listeners. "I don’t want to be tough/And I don’t want to be proud/I don’t need to be fixed and I certainly don’t need to be found," she announces.

The songs that exhibit a contained, reflective style are among the album’s best. "Be Still" is actually quite a sweet love song," and "Irvine," which has been widely praised, is a genuine, welcome surprise.

And I have to admit that I like "Hole," which some may find off-putting for its off-kilter guitar hook, but I thought the rawness of it fit really well with the song’s blunt lyrics. Yeah, she starts off with "There’s a hole inside of me/It’s so cold, slowly killing me," but later she concludes, "It’s all wrong/I’m so sick of this." Brings back warm and fuzzy feelings about high school, doesn’t it?

Possibly my favorite song on the album, though, is "Yeah," which is funky and fun, with Kelly delivering a sultry, R&B vocal that reminds you of when she did "Respect" proud way back on American Idol. It also proves that Kelly has finally gotten up close and personal with her inner badass. "Yeah" is a song about seduction, but she tells her object of affection, "I love you so try not to blow it this time." Yes, ma’am!

Overall, you can’t escape the fact that My December is a breakup album, and a lot of people find it hard to really, um, enjoy an album about being depressed and angry. It’s probably not going to generate the No. 1 hits that Breakaway did, but why should it? Kelly has clearly been coming into her own as an artist, and there’s no reason she should continue to make only the pop music that made her a star. My December is certainly a change from her previous two albums, but it’s not so far out of left field that it’s unexpected. I don’t know about you, but I heard the roar that Kelly delivers in this album in several of the songs of Breakaway.

And besides, you know what usually comes after a breakup album? One about falling in love. Bring it on, Kelly!

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