t must be comforting in some way to our editor-in-chief that his rarely-lauded-elsewhere Avril Lavigne is making money every time Kelly Clarkson sells one of her new albums. Lavigne, you see, helped write the title track of the idol’s newest album. Past this, Clarkson even enlists the help of Lavigne’s songwriting help on that album here, as well (most notably Chantel Kreviazuk). What might get excised from this review in the editing process is the fact that Clarkson should rightfully sell more of those records because of moments like halfway through “Behind These Hazel Eyes” wherein the entire musical backing drops out to let Clarkson’s voice through to live or die on its own. One can’t imagine, even with a ridiculous amount of ProTool processing power at the ready, that Lavigne would ever be able to do that on record.
The meme that comes to the fore when discussion past American Idol contestants (only first or second place finishers and only white, apparently) who have a modicum of success is their inability to fit an accepted mode of pop star comfortably. Idol is the perfect descriptor for what Clay Aiken and Kelly Clarkson are: malleable characters that can wear hats quite well, but can never don the actual costumes for very long. Fair, especially with Breakaway being the obvious second-album move towards rock that nearly every major woman pop star has undertaken in the past few years.
Much of the talk about the album has rightfully centered around the “surprisingly good” first single, “Since U Been Gone.” It’s indeed a harbinger of much of the album’s reliance on guitars, although no other song rocks quite as hard. But easily better is the bananas “Gone,” which sounds like as though it’s grafted the most tame version of Akufen, Christina Aguilera, and latin guitar on top of one another into a hugely satisfying pop masterpiece. Sadly, in a particularly poor bit of sequencing, the lite-rock ballad “Addicted” follows it up, draining all of the built-up energy and pushing it straight into the deadening first verse. The energy is quickly regained by the overpowering chorus, but the moment is lost.
Luckily, songs like “Breakaway” and “Walk Away” are good enough to make you forget about that disappointment. And, overall, Breakaway’s probable non-singles maintain a quality high enough to quell worries about the “I love the singles, but that’s all I really need to hear” arguments. In fact, as far as rock albums go among the teen pop set, Clarkson probably ranks somewhere among the top of her class. Kelly has a long way to go before we’ll ever feel comfortable calling her anything besides an American Idol, but for now she has a sound that seems believable enough to support her considerable chops.
Reviewed by: Charles Merwin
Reviewed on: 2005-02-17