Kelly Clarkson pleased that new album shows off her soul

Meaning of Life is a departure for the American Idol winner — one she’s been waiting for.

Nick Krewen

Music Mon., Oct 30, 2017

“Character, sass and attitude.”

Powerhouse singer, American Idol alum and current The Voice judge Kelly Clarkson nails a description of her new Meaning of Life album, just released, in just four words as she sits across her from her interviewer, resplendent in a black dress.

 

While she might be succinct with her summary of her eighth album, the 35-year-old Texas native has been long in patience, telling the Star during a recent Toronto visit that this 13-song effort is the one she always wanted to make.

But shouldn’t a superstar who has topped the charts with such hits as “Since U Been Gone,” “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You),” “My Life Would Suck Without You” and “A Moment Like This” — selling more than 24 million albums and 36 million singles in the wake of three Grammy Awards — be enough of a proven commodity that she’d be able to dictate the terms of her output?

“Well, I just got out of my Idol contract,” Clarkson admits, citing a 15-year relationship with RCA Records due to winning the reality TV music show’s very first season.

“It was an arranged marriage — and a very successful one — but I fulfilled a particular lane for that label. Luckily, it wasn’t that I hated my life. I like pop/rock and I like a lot of genres, but I sang soulful pop on Idol the entire time, so I don’t think (Meaning) is going to be a shock for my fans.”

That particular RCA lane didn’t include what Atlantic Records saw in her when she started the search for a new label home.

“Whenever I went to meetings with Atlantic and asked them what they wanted to do with me, they were like, ‘Man, we’d love to make an album like if Aretha (Franklin) were coming out now in 2017, what would that sound like?’

“And I asked, ‘Where do I sign?’ ”

Clarkson then played them the song “Meaning of Life,” a gospel-tinged, rafter-booming soul anthem co-written by Jesse Shatkin (Sia’s “Chandelier”) and U.K. artist James Morrison that she had been holding for consideration since her final RCA album, 2015’s Piece by Piece — and was buoyed by Atlantic’s response.

‘They flipped out on it and said, ‘This is perfect, because it’s hard to switch gears with people that have heard you for 15 years singing ‘Because of You,’ ‘Already Gone’ and ‘Stronger,’ etc.’ It was a nice song to be able to set the bar for the album.”

In terms of Kelly Clarkson albums, Meaning of Life is a bit more brazen, with barn-burning soulful blasts like “Love So Soft,” “Whole Lotta Woman,” “Didn’t I” and “I Don’t Think About You” providing plenty of grit and sweat.

Which brings us to the overall reason Clarkson — who performs at the Air Canada Centre on Dec. 9 as part of the iHeartRadio Jingle Ball — was eager to produce an album like Meaning of Life.

“Really, my goal was to showcase my vocals so people will stop telling me, ‘My God! I didn’t know you could sing!’” she laughs.

“That’s the entire reason I made this album. Because a lot of times I’d get mildly offended because I’d perform and people would be like, ‘Oh my God, you can sing!’ And I’d be like,’ What?!’

“It was perplexing me, but then I get it, because when you sing a lot of pop/rock stuff it comes off almost like jingles. A lot of artists can do that. So with this album, I focused on making an album that maybe not everyone could sing, just the strength of my performance. Because that’s my part in my art: I don’t really fly or dance in concert . . . I love writing, I love singing and I really wanted this album to sound solid.”

Either way, the mother of four (two by husband/manager Brandon Blackstock and two from his previous marriage) views this new work as a fresh start.

“I know it’s funny but, 15 years later, I feel like a first-time artist,” she admits. “It’s my first time to pick my label; the first time to pick my entire team and like really go for it. And it’s awesome to be at that point in your career, where if it does well awesome and if it doesn’t, still awesome. I’ve been dying to make this for so long that I don’t care either way. I’m just very happy.”

On the horizon for Clarkson, beside a world tour to support the new album, is a spring 2018 appearance as a coach on The Voice, one of the myriad reality TV music competition shows that seem to be in vogue at the moment.

Clarkson, of course, is the original winner of American Idol, which ended its Fox Network run in 2016 only to be resurrected by ABC for 2018. The Nashville resident says she was approached to be a judge for the new show but had already committed to The Voice.

“I’m like, well, if I have to choose between my husband, who manages Blake Shelton and has to leave us, and our family can all be in the same place, I’m obviously going to choose that,” Clarkson explains. “Honestly, I’ve given 15 years of my life to Idol; I’ve gone back every season pretty much and I’m so proud of my start, but I’m also pretty excited about sitting in a chair and not seeing or worrying about the esthetic appeal of someone, and just listening.

“Because I love music. I grew up without MTV. I loved artists because I listened to them, which is what I feel like music should be.”

With the reality TV music scene seemingly heating up again — besides Voice and Idol, Canada is preparing its own program The Launch and NBC has green-lighted another one called The Stream — is there a chance all these programs may suffer from audience fatigue?

“Well, when are y’all going to stop watching them? “she retorts. “And the other question is, why aren’t people more famous from them? And that’s because there’s a frickin’ plethora of them now.”

Clarkson agrees that music is often the last concern with viewers.

“I’m going to be honest with you right now: I am 99 per cent of the time told that it wasn’t even my singing that drew them to me. People are like, ‘Oh, I loved your personality.’ It wasn’t always about the singing, it’s about the selling. But if you think about it, that’s also what happens in the industry. That’s why some people make it and some people don’t, because people gravitate toward them as a person as well. Like country music, for instance, the whole genre is based on lifestyle.

“I will say you’re lucky when you get to do it the way I did, because you have all this leverage. You have all these millions of people that already like you, though it’s like, what are you going to put out? They’re excited, they want something. A new artist doesn’t have that. They don’t even know you. You have to work for everything.

“There’s always going to be a different door and it’s whichever door comes in front of you.”

Kelly Clarkson pleased that new album shows off her soul | Toronto Star

Postmodern Jukebox turns back the clock on pop hits

Postmodern Jukebox turns back the clock on pop hits

Scott Bradlee and his rotating cast of singers and musicians redo current songs — from Radiohead to Katy Perry — for a bygone era.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Mon Nov 16 2015

Shaken, not stirred.

No, we’re not talking about James Bond martinis, but the entertaining and imaginatively radical rearrangements of prevailing pop, rock and rap classics by New Jersey-raised pianist Scott Bradlee and musical combo Postmodern Jukebox, appearing at Massey Hall on Monday.

Musically speaking, Bradlee applies the same principle to his renditions of famous tunes that 007 does to his celebrated drink: throws all the ingredients into a metaphorical tumbler, tosses them into a bygone era, and then serves them up with a rotating cast of 60 singers and musicians, ranging from American Idol finalists Haley Reinhart and Casey Abrams to Puddles, a six-foot-eight baritone cabaret singer in full clown costume.

Imagine Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” rearranged as a breathless, banjo-infested ragtime-era hoedown, or Miley Cyrus’s “We Can’t Stop” reworked as a ’50s doo-wop number. Sometimes Bradlee switches up time signatures or inserts a few bars of another tune in the middle of a song, as he did with Wham!’s “Careless Whisper,” speeding up its tempo and briefly detouring into Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” and “Message In a Bottle” by the Police.

You can hear and see them — along with 159 other revamped tunes — on Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox YouTube channel, which boasts 1.6 million subscribers and is updated Thursdays.

Bradlee, 34, says he can retrofit practically any song or style. Witness the first five songs PMJ performed at the Great Hall in Toronto in June 2014, their first live show ever: Europe’s “The Final Countdown,” Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s “Thrift Shop,” Swedish House Mafia’s “Don’t You Worry Child,” Kesha’s “Die Young” and the “Gummi Bears Theme Song.”

“Basically, the process involves picking out a song for its lyrics,” Bradlee explains. “I pick apart the lyrics and the structure of the song to see if there’s anything that would suggest it being recorded in an earlier era.
“For instance, ‘My Heart Will Go On,’ everybody knows it from the movie Titanic; it’s a Céline Dion song. But if you look at the lyrics, it’s essentially a ’50s song: it has that flowery language of “my heart will go on” and that’s something you can definitely hear sung by somebody like Jackie Wilson.
“So you’re hearing something familiar in a completely different context and it still works.”

Bradlee admits that some songs have him stymied.

“We never did a cover of ‘Uptown Funk’ because it already has the classic feel of ’70s funk. Mark Ronson is such a brilliant producer and Bruno Mars is a great vocalist; how do you write something new with that? It’s already classic.”

For Massey Hall, the show will feature “four or five vocalists,” a horn section and a tap dancer.

“If you were to go back in time to the Golden Age of Hollywood and you’re going to a New Year’s Eve party, it’s the kind of party that Frank Sinatra would go to,” Bradlee says.

 

Postmodern Jukebox turns back the clock on pop hits | Toronto Star

Postscript: Ironically, Scott Bradlee was the one person missing from the Postmodern Jukebox appearance at Massey Hall that featured Haley Reinhart, Casey Abrams and others. Franchise experimentation, perhaps?

One Direction on the right track at Rogers Centre: review

One Direction sounded as good as four pop singers with a multi-million dollar aural-and-video production values should sound: perfect. Make that nearly perfect.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Thu Aug 20 2015

One Direction
3 stars
At the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Aug. 20

When you consider it, One Direction is the anti-boy-band boy band.

Stack them up against the earlier progenitors of poster pop pablum, whether it’s reaching as far back as the ’60s for the Osmonds and the Jackson 5, or as recently as the late ’90s watermarks Backstreet Boys and ‘NSYNC, and the one thing they don’t do that all the others did is . . . dance.

But the absence of slick, relentless choreography is something the 40,000 mainly female fans who packed Rogers Centre on Thursday night didn’t seem to mind, since they were sharing the same source of oxygen as their singing idols, Harry Styles, soon-to-be-baby-daddy Louis Tomlinson, Liam Payne and guitar-strumming Niall Horan.

In its first Toronto appearance since the fifth singer Zayn Malik abandoned ship, One Direction sounded as good as four pop singers with multi-million dollar aural-and-video production values should sound: perfect.

Make that nearly perfect.

There were some flat notes on “No Control” and “Diana” and a few other spots, especially by Tomlinson, but it’s not like the fans noticed or held them accountable for it.

Instead, they cheered their heroes as they sang each song faithfully, beginning with a fireworks-blasting “Clouds” and following it up with a streamer-shooting “Steal My Girl,” both from the group’s latest album, Four, and screamed at the tops of their lungs whenever they were asked to scream.

If there is a formula to pop music, One Direction and its group of management overseers, which includes American Idol’s Simon Cowell, have perfected it: hire a bunch of influential Swedish writers to craft tuneful three-to-four minute ditties about love, love and more love (with the occasional creative input from 1D themselves).

Then ensure that every singer in the band shares the lead and backs the rest of his pals on harmonies when he’s not singing lead and, while performing, have them walk around the stage just being themselves, with no pre-rehearsed banter, save for the occasional positioning onstage to spread the One Direction love.

Oh and the other pièce de résistance? Every time a different One Direction member grabs the microphone, have them thank their audience often and profusely, because, really, what else is there to talk about when you’re entertaining a bunch of screaming fans?

It’s this anti-approach that’s been a stroke of genius since the band first appeared at the ACC four years ago and usurped where-are-they-now headliners Big Time Rush with their humble, wide-eyed charm.

Five years later and brimming with confidence, One Direction hasn’t really refined their act as much as just become more comfortable with their talent

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Roaming up and down a T-shaped stage that stretched halfway into the venue, the boys spent the better part of two hours concentrating on their past two albums, only dipping into their first for the upbeat “What Makes You Beautiful,” their second for “Little Things” and “Kiss You,” and their new single “Drag You Down” from the inevitable fifth album that will crash the charts in November.

The songs varied in pacing from power pop to ballads, with Styles, who draped himself with the Canadian flag a couple of times during the evening, seemingly taxed with the more challenging vocal motifs.

The spontaneity came mainly from onstage action: water gun fights between Payne and Tomlinson, a happy birthday serenade to 15-year-old blue-haired Jean, a Payne hug to a gobsmacked fan, Styles’ brief wander into the crowd and Horan’s sloppily improvised Riverdance during the playful Celtic romp “Act My Age.”

It all added up to keeping the disciples pretty giddy and somewhat satiated after 25 songs.

It’s inevitable that time and the fickle tastes of the public will eventually catch up and doom One Direction, but judging by the Rogers Centre audience, that moment seems far, far away.

For 40,000 fans, at least, the band is still heading in the right direction.

One Direction on the right track at Rogers Centre: review | Toronto Star