Kelly Clarkson has been on a roll in her personal life.
She married artist manager and pilot Brandon Blackstock in 2013 and became a mom to his two kids. She gave birth to River Rose Blackstock last year. And Clarkson recently told People magazine that she now finds herself at peace.
That's great news for the ever-likable original American Idol, and she even shared her happiness in "Heartbeat Song," the upbeat first single from her new "Piece by Piece" (RCA) album, by posting an adorable video of River chair-dancing to the track. However, Clarkson's successful home life seems to have quenched much of the fire that fueled her previous successes.
Rather than the rage of "Since U Been Gone" or the sass of "Walk Away" or even the wrenching pain of "Because of You," we get a much calmer, less excited Clarkson on "Piece by Piece," her first pop album in four years.
The closest we get to any of Clarkson's previously brassy attitude is on the gorgeous "Someone," a lush synth ballad written by Seaford native Matthew Koma that caps the tale of an imploding relationship with the tag line, "I'm sorry I'm not sorry."
In its place, Clarkson offers more stately, assured ballads like "Invincible," co-written by Sia, that seems to put Clarkson atop a synthesized wall of sound in some sort of ivory tower. It sounds elegant, but also isolated -- far, far away from the sweaty dance floor anthems of "Stronger."
Sometimes, Clarkson's warm vocals bridge the gap on "Piece by Piece," especially in the extremely personal title track, which Clarkson wrote with producer Greg Kurstin, as she passionately proclaims, "Piece by piece, he restored my faith that a man can be kind and a father could stay."
If that's the new plateau Clarkson is reaching for, it will be well worth it. She often comes up a little short on "Piece by Piece," offering good, but not great.
"Piece by Piece"
THE GRADE B
BOTTOM LINE Settling into a more grown-up phase of pop