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Kelly Clarkson - Cruel

Kelly Clarkson - Cruel
With some break-up albums, listeners have to read lyrics like tea leaves to deduce their backstory. But on Kelly Clarkson's lushly soulful Meaning of Life -- her first album under a new contract with Atlantic Records, following a lengthy and unhappy tenure at RCA -- the writing's on the wall: not all breakups are bad, and freedom feels damn good. (The gal who sang "Since U Been Gone," canon on the subject, should certainly know.)


With both her ceiling-shattering voice and delightfully unfiltered spirit unleashed, Clarkson embraces her Aretha moment without ever losing herself. Turns out that while angsty pop-rocker Kelly was fun, "Whole Lotta Woman" Kelly — who belts her way through an extended metaphor likening herself to a full Southern meal ("Pot full of grits/ I'm hotter than your mama's supper, boy") — is the flat out life of the party. -- REBECCA MILZOFF

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