Album Review: Kelly Clarkson, “My December” (2007)

It’s hard to believe that it’s been five years since Kelly Clarkson won the title of the first American Idol. Since then Clarkson has seen multiple Grammy nominations and wins, two platinum albums, and world-wide success. It seemed obvious that her latest effort, My December would also go on to be a great hit.

Things started off bad when the album’s release was greatly overshadowed with rumors of conflicts between Clarkson and her record label (RCA). The hype surrounding the album also seemed to diminish, and record sells weren’t nearly as high as they’d been for Clarkson’s prior albums, and she even ended up cancelling her tour due to poor ticket sells.

But it should be said that My December isn’t a bad album. Sure, it’s not the commercial success that Thankful was. And no, it doesn’t have catchy, pop tunes like the songs on Breakaway. I can’t lie and say that every song is good, but there are a few songs that are honest, good music (written/co-written by Clarkson herself) that make the album worth listening to.

The album begins with the lead single, Never Again. The song immediately starts with bitter lyrics telling the story of a woman scorned (“Does it hurt/To know I’ll never be there/Bet it sucks/To see my face everywhere/It was you/Who chose to end it like you did”). The sound is quite edgier than some of Clarkson’s previous songs, and despite really lacking a memorable chorus, the song is still one of the better tracks on the disc.

The tempo picks up with One Minute, a bouncy, fast-paced song. This track is actually reminiscent of some of the songs on Breakaway, and is a fun addition to the album. This time around, the chorus is one that you’ll have a hard time forgetting, and Clarkson sounds good during both the verses and choruses.

The first ballad on the album appears with Sober. A simple, yet haunting, melody backs up Clarkson’s fierce vocals. Though the song is beautiful musically, it’s the lyrics that really make the song. The mature songwriting is something that Clarkson hadn’t previously displayed, and the lyrics about surviving a breakup, or just a bad time in life, can be relatable to just about anyone (“Three months and I’m still sober/Picked all my weeds but kept the flowers/But I know it’s never really over …/Three months and I’m still breathing/Been a long road since those hands I left my tears in/But I know It’s never really over, no”).

Another ballad on the album, and one of my favorite songs, is Be Still. The song starts off slowly, with what at first sounds like a stereotypical pop-ballad beat, before Clarkson’s vocals are introduced. Her voice actually sounds quite lovely during this song; raspy and strong, and at the same time, sweet and hushed. The lyrics in the bridge add to the song’s charm (“I’ll gladly climb your walls/If you’ll meet me halfway…/Here’s my hand and my heart/It’s yours to take”), and I’ll always relate this song to some sentimental memories I had this past summer.

Kelly Clarkson in Canberra, 2005

Maybe is another of the disc’s highlights. The song begins on a mellow note, with Clarkson stating all her “flaws” (“I’m strong, but I break/I’m stubborn, and I make plenty of mistakes/Yeah I’m hard, and life with me is never easy”), and then turning around and saying, “All you have to do is hold me/And you’ll know and you’ll see just how sweet it can be.” The tempo suddenly picks up after the second chorus, and the song has a rock edge to it that’s a bit surprising, but works quite well. Clarkson practically screams her way through the honest lyrics (“I don’t need to be fixed and I certainly don’t need to be found/I’m not lost, I need to be loved, I just need to be loved “), but still ends up sound good, and getting the appropriate emotion of the song through to the listeners. The song is one that was obviously a risk to include on the album- it’s by no means “commercial”- but happens to be one of the disc’s strongest tracks, and one of my favorites to listen to.

However, the album does have its flaws. Hole is an edgy sounding rock song. The chorus is pretty catchy, but overall, the song seems to be trying to be a bit too “rock” and too “edgy” and just ends up being a skip. Don’t Waste Your Time is another light rocker, with yet another memorable chorus, but in the long run, is pretty forgettable, especially amidst the better songs on the album. Judas is easily the worst song on the album, and is quite possibly the worst song in Clarkson’s musical history, period (yes, even worse than some of the duds on Thankful). The concept is good, I suppose- most people can relate to be betrayed by a friend- but the annoying chorus and lack of a good melody make the song a train wreck. Haunted sounds like an Amy Lee/Evanescence reject song, and not in a good way. How I Feel is such a forgettable bore that I honestly can’t recall without actually listening to.

Things get slightly better with Yeah. The song starts off with an Aerosmith-esque guitar riff, which leads way into a rock/blues type song that’s honestly just fun. Clarkson sounds good during the chorus and though the song isn’t very lyrically profound, it’s still a decent filler track. Next up is the mid-tempo number, Can I Have A Kiss. Acoustic guitar dominates this track, but the result is a breezy song that’s lyrically reminiscent to Maybe (“I know why you left I can’t blame you myself/Must be hard living with ghosts and such an empty shell/I tried to warn you/I’ve been a mess since you’ve known me/I can’t promise forever/But I’m working on it/If I can’t hold you/Can I give you a kiss/Can I have a kiss”).

The album comes to a close with Irvine. The song is one of the most stripped of production on the album; simple guitar and Clarkson’s vocals are all that the track is made of. The song was written in Irvine, California, after Clarkson had a bit of an emotional breakdown after a show. Though she hasn’t specifically commented on it, it’s pretty apparent that the lyrics are directed to God (Clarkson has stated on several occasions that she does believe in God, and recognizes herself as Christian), and the heartfelt lyrics (“Can you feel how cold I am?/Do you cry as I do?/Are you lonely up there all by yourself?/Like I have felt all my life/The only one to save mine/How are you so strong?/What’s it like to feel so free?/Your heart is really something/Your love, a complete mystery to me”) mimic some of my own questions/thoughts about God in difficult moments. Clarkson’s delivery of the song is appropriately somber; her voice breaks at points in the song, and I’ve wondered if she was actually crying in the studio while recording the track. Still, the song tends to drag a bit, and unfortunately, unless you’re in the same somber mood that the song presents, you probably won’t be in the mood to listen to it.

After about a minute of silence, we’re presented with the sound of a record scratching and Clarkson quietly harmonizing, which introduces the “hidden” track, Chivas. This hidden track is another great addition the album. The song is mixed with sarcasm, and bitterness, and Clarkson sings of an ex, and ultimately decides, “So much for true love/I’ll take this Chivas instead”. The clever lyrics and Clarkson’s carefree delivery always make me smile, and I’ve decided that I’ve gotta buy and drink a bottle of Chivas once I turn 21. 😉

All in all, Clarkson’s album isn’t as much of a disappointment that the media portrayed it to be. Like I said before, it’s not the same kind of material that fans have come to expect from Kelly Clarkson, but I don’t see that as a bad thing. My December definitely has its low points, but its highs are some of Clarkson’s best songs, and I’ll be looking forward to seeing how she’ll continue to mature as an artist and songwriter in the future.

Rating: 1000px-3.5_stars.svg

Track Listing
1. Never Again
2. One Minute
3. Hole
4. Sober
5. Don’t Waste Your Time
6. Judas
7. Haunted
8. Be Still
9. Maybe
10. How I Feel
11. Yeah
12. Can I Have A Kiss
13. Irvine

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVYesEpMr84]
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