Kelly Clarkson - Stronger (3.5/5). "Stronger" as a title for this album is fitting if describing the singer behind it but unfortunately not its songs. Kelly's never sounded better, but the songs on this albums, while generally well-crafted, lack the strong pop hooks she's known for. This is evident on the album's first single "Mr. Know It All," which has managed to reach the top 20 but not the top 10 on the back of its decent melody and delivery but weak chorus.
The zippy second track, "What Doesn't Kill You (Stronger)," sounds like it would have made a better lead single, although its lyrics can be a mouthful too, reminding me of the problem Alanis Morissette had on her second album. Lyrics are a problem throughout, particularly on "You Can't Win," during which Clarkson sings "if you're gay, why aren't you waving a flag?" Well, Kelly, maybe I have other things to do with my time, thanks. One song that actually manages to deliver a memorable chorus is "I Forgive You," a charged track that comes about halfway through.
Since most of the album posits Clarkson in that fast-and-angry mode she's become known for, I appreciate its few slower, effective moments, like the lovelorn "Honestly" and the tender "Standing in Front of You." Also welcome are the forrays into country--a genre Clarkson is showing increasing interest in. Although nothing here is full-on country, there are hints, like the shuffle of "Hello" and the slow song finale "Breaking Your Own Heart."
Max Martin was the producer responsible for many of her biggest hits, so it's surprising he doesn't show up in the liner notes, with Clarkson instead turning to a mostly new slate of pop producers, such as Greg Kurstin and Brian Kennedy. Despite it being a commercial flop, I'd love to see Clarkson do something as gutsy as My December again. I think it would be a lot more interesting.
Best: What Doesn't Kill You (Stronger), Mr. Know It All, Honestly, I Forgive You, Standing in Front of You
Kasabian - Velociraptor! (4/5). Q Magazine named West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum their favorite album of 2009, but I wasn't sold on it. This isn't that much different, but for some reason, it works better this time. I'm hearing a strong '60s influence again, particularly on the album's three opening tracks, which I think are its strongest. They've moved from psychedelia into '60s spy movie territory on "Let's Roll Just Like We Used To," an energetic and slightly sinister track that reminds me of U2's "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me." "Day Are Forgotten" is an even more muscular rock track, contrasting with the sweeter Beatles-esque romanticism of "Goodbye Kiss." The rest of the album isn't as strong, but its never weak either, mixing in some surprising sounds like the Middle Eastern touches on "Acid Turkish Bath (Shelter from the Storm)" and '80s synths in "I Hear Voices." Best: Days Are Forgotten, Let's Roll Just Like We Used to, Goodbye Kiss, Re-Wired.