Kelly Clarkson has learned her lessons well.
She figured out that the problem with her last album, "My December," wasn't that it was dark, but that it was unfinished. The emotions were valid, but the way she expressed them was a bit lacking.
No problem with that this time. Not only is "All I Ever Wanted" (RCA) overflowing with potential hit singles, but it covers all the same ground she wanted to cover the last time - esteem issues, betrayal, longing - in a far more effective way, using a wide variety of pop styles to make her points.
Clarkson easily swings from the fizzy dance-pop of her No. 1 single "My Life Would Suck Without You" to the Pinkish rock anthem "I Do Not Hook Up," written by "American Idol" judge Kara DioGuardi, Katy "I Kissed a Girl" Perry and Greg Wells.
But that's just a warm-up. The gorgeous ballad "If No One Will Listen" shows she can still beat any "Idol" contender in a throwdown, while she spits out the punk-pop nugget "Whyyawannabringmedown" with enough venom to knock out almost any Warped Tour band. On "I Want You," she plays the girl-group, Amy Winehouse, retro-pop vibe perfectly, while the wall of guitars on "Don't Let Me Stop You" shows she hasn't abandoned the rock style she was trying to build with Mike Watt on "My December."
Despite her very public stumble with "My December," Clarkson did not retreat on "All I Ever Wanted." She moved full steam ahead with building a bright, vibrant pop world that suits her, as well as all of her fans.
KELLY CLARKSON "All I Ever Wanted"
BOTTOM LINE Clarkson twists perfect pop to suit her darker style.
Combining the talents of former Soundgarden/Audioslave frontman Chris Cornell and super hit-maker Timbaland could have been a pretty good idea. Unfortunately, the resulting "Scream" (Interscope/Mosley Music) makes it sound like it was the last good one either of them had during their sessions. The oddness of "Sweet Revenge," which sounds like the duo re-creating "Bad"-era Michael Jackson, is passable. But when Cornell restrains his trademark yowl to accommodate an apparent Nelly Furtado castoff on the painful "Part of Me" and the monotone OneRepublic-styled "Long Gone," you have to wonder how he went from superstar to musically bankrupt so quickly.
CHRIS CORNELL "Scream"
THE GRADE C
BOTTOM LINE "Scream" frightens with its blatant hit-chasing
The-Dream's "Love vs. Money" (Def Jam)
Ballas Hough Band's "bhb" (Hollywood)
Madeleine Peyroux's "Bare Bones" (Rounder)
Taylor Hicks' "The Distance" (101)
New Found Glory's "Not Without a Fight" (Epitaph)