Bleak ‘December’ 

Bleak ‘December’

After her first two albums, Kelly Clarkson had the world in her hands. Her success with rocked-up sing-alongs like “Since U Been Gone” and “Behind These Hazel Eyes” transformed her from “American Idol” into something that almost looked like a legitimate artist. However, her third outing, My December, takes all the good will she engendered and pisses it away in a desperate attempt to complete some unholy transformation into, at best, Pink (sans hooks, which apparently Clarkson no longer thinks are necessary) or, at worst, Amy Lee of Evanescence (which is just too absurd to even crack jokes about).

My December was such a disappointment to RCA label head Clive Davis that he allegedly tried to pay Clarkson a fortune just so he didn’t have to release an album that had no singles. Two weeks after Davis assailed Clarkson’s latest, mirthless opus at an industry press conference, she fired her management team. Shortly after that, her over-ambitious summer tour was canceled because of lackluster ticket sales. In other words, it’s been a rough year for Clarkson, but, hey, she’s stuck to her guns and, despite the pressure, decided to release an album of self-written tracks that almost universally play out like clichéd confessionals and defy your desire to sing along.

“Can I Have a Kiss” (which is probably Clarkson at her sexiest) and “How I Feel” are both poppy enough, and hidden track “Chivas” offers up some worthy acoustic soul, but tracks such as “Haunted” and “Maybe” — two of seven crappy one-word titles on My December — are, again, trying so hard to be Evanescence that royalties should be owed. The album’s saving grace: “Irvine,” a haunting, beautiful ballroom waltz about the post-performance comedown. Doesn’t make up for the letdown, but it’s something.

— Cole Haddon


Jersey Twang

Dear Bon Jovi:

When you go to sleep at night, do you thank God for middle-aged white women?  If not, you should start now. Think of what you have gotten away with over the last 25 years.

On one hand, you, along with guitar player Richie Sambora, managed to ultimately eclipse your contemporaries in terms of success, even bands that shared the exact good-looking blond singer + wild guitar player + “those other guys in the band” ratio. You have become one of the most popular American rock bands in history simply by not going away.

For your persistence I applaud you.

But one question remains to be answered: Where are the good songs?

I can’t tell “Livin’ on a Prayer,” “You Give Love a Bad Name,” or “It’s My Life” apart, so I’ll have to count that as one song. I’ll have to do the same for arguably your two best songs “Wanted Dead or Alive” and “Blaze of Glory”.

So, according to my fuzzy math — and excluding the bulk of your catalog that focuses on sappy, acoustic ballads such as “Bed of Roses” and “Always” — you have two great songs.

You’ve described Lost Highway as a “Bon Jovi album influenced by Nashville,” leading talk-show hosts to ask if you’ve gone country. Bon Jovi, I want to let your fans in on a secret. You are country. You are Nashville. In fact, if you’ve seen Montgomery Gentry or Rascal Flatts or whatever is popular on the pop-country charts right now, they are just catching up with you. Rootsy rock with big guitar solos and the hard-to-swallow “badass” persona is all the rage in Nashville. To explain, I have to search no further than your new duet with Big and Rich on the song “We Got It Going On.”

Sambora has that juicy guitar hook, there’s no doubt about it, but the message? “Everybody’s getting down, we’re getting down to business/ insane freak train, you don’t wanna miss this/ we got it goin’ on/ we’ll be banging and singing just like the Rolling Stones.”

Keith Richards must be spinning in his grave. Hank Williams is probably pretty uncomfortable as well.

During a recent perfomance on NBC’s Today Show, surrounded by a sea of middle-aged women wearing tank tops and stone-washed jeans, anchor Matt Lauer asked you where you got such a great title for a “Nashville-based” album.

But Lost Highway and its acoustic weepers probably aren’t an ode to Hank.  The album is more than likely a platform for something of a deeper moral import, like Sambora trying to explain how juggling famous beauties Heather Locklear and Denise Richards landed him in detox.

Bon Jovi, you have always been two steps ahead of Shania Twain, but you’ll always be two steps behind rock ‘n’ roll.

— Ryan Markmann



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