Kelly Clarkson, "Meaning of Life" (Atlantic Records)
What's that great sound on Kelly Clarkson's new album? It's proud, it's sexy, it's funny. Oh, yes, that's the sound of freedom.
On "Meaning of Life," her first album since leaving long-time home Sony, the former "American Idol" winner seems liberated, more soulful and less poppy. Independence definitely suits her.
"Thought I could never leave?" she sings on the terrific "I Don't Think About You," which is a breakup song that could easily apply to her former employers. "After all that I've been through, nothin' left to prove."
Her last album, 2015's "Piece by Piece," was almost mournful in contrast to the 14-track "Meaning of Life," which is brimming with humor, sass and light. It's not hard to imagine Clarkson smiling a lot in the recording studio.
"I'm hotter than your mama's supper, boy," she teases in "Whole Lotta Woman," a bluesy, foot-stomper that borrows the horn section from Earth, Wind & Fire and might steam up your mirrors. "Hold on tight little country boy/I ain't no girl/I'm a boss with orders."
From the boot-stomping "Love So Soft" to the concentrated emotion in "Move You" and the bluesy "Cruel," Clarkson's voice hasn't sounded better, soaring into Christina Aguilera territory with its subtlety, twists and stamina.
She reunites with producer Greg Kurstin — who has crafted hits for Clarkson, Adele, Sia and Pink — on the new atmospheric club tune "Would You Call That Love" and Clarkson elevates it to something higher. On "Go High," she takes a Michelle Obama slogan — "When they go low, we go high" — and applies it to herself (and, naturally, her voice goes wicked high.)
There's simply no filler on her eighth studio album, her first with Atlantic Records. It opens with a song fragment in which Clarkson begs for some down time, "a minute just for me." Once that's over, it's just Clarkson unleashed.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits