Welcome to the latest edition of ‘Golden Vault’, where we delve into the annals of music to bring you a classic album. You’ll know some like the back of your hand and nothing of others. We hope to get you reacquainted with old friends and create new favourites. The album to be taken out of the Golden Vault for reappraisal this week is ‘Breakaway’ by Kelly Clarkson.
Ah, ‘American Idol’ – ‘The X Factor’s slack-jawed, yokelling, Western cousin. The show has produced country crooners (Carrie Underwood), R&B singers, (Jordin Sparks) and nobodies a-plenty, (Taylor Hicks? David Cook? Lee Dewyze? No?).
There is one story, however, that stands out among all the hopefuls. Kelly Clarkson was the first winner of American Idol, and is affectionately referred to as 'The Original American Idol'. Clarkson has 91 Billboard #1s under her belt, and has sold 20 million albums worldwide.
The most successful Idol alum is set to drop a new album 'Piece by Piece' on March 3rd, with lead single Heartbeat Song, out now. But before looking forward, its necessary to get retrospective, and examine the album that ultimately made her.
'Breakaway' is the second studio album by Clarkson, released in November 2004. She was in tough position. Critics had been vocal about her first album, and continued to typecast her as nothing more than an American Idol winner. Keen to establish herself as a credible artist, she began working with producers Dr. Luke and Max Martin, (the man responsible for Taylor Swift's newest LP).
Clarkson adopted a different sound – pop at its very core, with a soft rock edge. Thematically, Clarkson was all about championing the single woman: Miss Independent and lead single Since U Been Gone are prime examples. Gone, meanwhile, is a stomach-punch to an ex-lover – frenetic guitars, harmonies and a striking falsetto included.
In the current climate, it would be considered risky to release an album like ‘Breakaway’. Nowadays, pop rock means nothing, unless you’re male, in a band, and really good-looking. Even the likes of Pink and Avril Lavigne have abandoned their guitar roots. That being said, as of late, Clarkson's sound couldn't be further away from ‘Breakaway’.
Let's rein it in a bit – by today's standards, the album is in no way ground-breaking. But that doesn't take away its certain, special quality. The title track Breakaway – most definitely in the top 20 most butchered karaoke songs – has a lyrical depth and sincerity not seen in pop today. Its delivery, initially soft and dream-like, progresses into a rollicking chorus of drums, guitars and strong vocals.
The album is balanced out by its darker moments. Behind These Hazel Eyes showcases Clarkson's stunning range against a raucous backdrop of noise. Hear Me contains Evanescence-esque piano. Addicted is a sombre rock ballad that could easily have been plucked from any band's back catalogue. Clarkson's vocals would sound as glorious in a stadium as any arena as those of a full-on rock band.
'Breakaway' saw Clarkson hone her craft as a songwriter. Because Of You is particularly haunting, while Walk Away remains a sassy, shuddering kiss-off.
As snarky online commenters frequently remind us, pop albums have been known to lack both depth and character. But this is not always the case. ‘Breakaway’ serves as an important point of reference when attempting to craft a pop album that surpasses these limitations. The current generation of pop stars would do well to remember that.