“Miss Independent,” the lead single from Kelly Clarkson’s Thankful was co-penned by none other than Christina Aguilera, setting the tone for what was a predominantly R&B-oriented debut (not surprising since this was the girl who snagged the first American Idol title by singing the shit out of Aretha’s “Respect” and Celine’s “I Surrender”—with a head-cold no less). So it’s telling that the title track from Clarkson’s sophomore effort was co-written by a very different kind of starlet—punk-pop princess Avril Lavigne. In a decided bid to “break away” from the Idol template, Clarkson heads in an edgier, rockier direction with Breakaway—the album’s production credits are a who’s-who in the post-Avril pop world, the same names who have contributed to recent stinkers by Hilary, Ashlee, and Lindsay: John Shanks, Kara DioGuardi, Clif Magness. The difference is, Clarkson puts the power in the power-hooks (she’s still the best singer to come out of Idol) and she often elevates the album’s vanilla pop/rock productions and hackneyed, by-the-numbers lyrics (sample: “I’d become comfortably numb/Until you opened up my eyes”) above mediocrity. Breakaway’s second single, the Max Martin-helmed “Since U Been Gone,” is all wristbands and fishnets, with Clarkson doing a damn good impression of Pat Benetar, while tracks like “Addicted,” a collaboration with Ben Moody, and “Hear Me” offer up some electrifying Evanescence-style girl-metal. Though her rocky leanings were hinted at on the less coherent Thankful, Clarkson has always cited Mariah Carey as a primary influence and she still owes a lot to that former powerhouse—vocally, Clarkson tears it up. In a way, Breakaway is what Mariah might sound like if she ever decided to rock out.
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