By Mike Ayers
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Kelly Clarkson is concerned. She released her new album "Stronger" this week and thinks it is her best work yet, but whenever something like that happens she worries nobody will like it.
The 13-song collection finds Clarkson working with a handful of new songwriters on some tunes and continuing to write her own music, which she has done since winning TV singing contest "American Idol" in 2002 at age 20.
While many past "Idol" winners have failed to rise to the heights of superstardom, Clarkson has enjoyed chart-topping success with pop rock singles such as "Miss Independent" and the smash hit, "Since U Been Gone."
But at age 29, the Texas native now has seen both highs and lows in her career, and she knows that even if she thinks her songs are great, the fans are the ultimate decision makers.
"Whenever you love something so much -- and I think this is my best yet -- I think sometimes when I think like that, it means no one's going to like it," she said of "Stronger."
A majority of the songs on the new album find Clarkson at an emotionally charged state. The sound straddles the line between big dance numbers and arena-rock bombast, which has become her signature calling card.
Clarkson calls the album "very intense" and said she felt she had a lot of energy and "soulfulness" to put into it. She likened each song to its "own little rollercoaster ride. Dynamically, vocally, that's what I love doing."
The energy is evident on the first single, "Mr. Know It All," as well as the up-and-down rock moments of "You Can't Win" and the electro-rock arrangements of "Let Me Down."
SONGS ABOUT REAL LIFE
Lyrically, the songs dwell heavily on relationships and empowerment, two subjects that have been highlights her work through the years.
"I love writing and singing songs about real life situations -- especially about relationships," she said. "Everyone wants to feel like they're not alone in a thought. That's the best feeling I get, when I hear a song and it's like 'you just nailed me.' That's the coolest thing in the world, to write something that can be relatable to other human beings."
Over the years, Clarkson's image has been that of an artist who is willing to speak her mind in regards to her creative output, even if it meant going against her label, as she did surrounding 2007's "My December."
And as she has matured, making music seems to be getting easier for Clarkson, mainly because she has not clung too closely to any one genre. In recent years, she's collaborated with country stars Reba McEntire, Rascal Flatts and Martina McBride. She also co-headlined a tour with McEntire in 2008.
"Stronger" continues to reflect her expanded range in musical styles, as evidenced by the dance-pop of "What Doesn't Kill You (Stronger)," charged rock and roll of "Hello" and the power ballad "Standing in Front of You."
Yet, while she may continue to explore different sounds and arrangements throughout her career, her vocals on "Stronger" remain her biggest asset among fans and critics.
In its review for "Stronger," The New York Times described Clarkson as turning into the "Mary J. Blige of pop music," where she's becoming "so good at being wounded that no one wants her to heal."
The Washington Post was less than thrilled, however, calling the album "comforting" but "unchallenging."
(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)