Kelly Clarkson's ascendancy to mainstream pop royalty was relatively swift, when you think about it. After winning the first American Idol in 2002, the then-19-year-old Texan's debut was an instant hit - but further explorations into that bubblegum pop arena would probably have left her languishing in a trench of musical ordinariness, despite her powerful voice. Instead, her second album 'Breakaway' incorporated a rockier edge and broke her on a massive scale internationally, not least due to the excellent singles 'Since U Been Gone' and 'Breakaway'.
Since then, Clarkson has continued down the pop-rock route and guitars are now a mainstay of her sound. In fact many of the songs on 'All I Ever Wanted', her fourth album, were apparently "inspired by Garbage", although it's hard to discern which ones; it seems like OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder's influence (as writer and producer of several tracks) is more perceptible.
Lead single 'My Life Would Suck Without You' has already broken chart records in the U.S., but despite its glossy pep, it's one of the more basic tracks here, at least in melodic construction. Several songs have already been recorded by Katy Perry, too ('Long Shot', 'I Do Not Hook Up'), and their compelling synth-pop riffs are telling.
Yet there's still a sense of mundanity about 'All I Ever Wanted' as a whole. Clarkson's voice, full-bodied and occasionally soulful, is not the problem - but the lack of variation from 'kick-ass' pop-rock tunes and predictable ballads grows tiresome very quickly. The perky 'Feelin' Groovy' vibe of 'Ready', and the '60s girl group-simulating 'I Want You' are two of the best tracks, simply because they're not cloaked in studio sheen and layers of guitar. As pop albums go, this is standard fare - which wouldn't be quite so disappointing if we weren't already aware of what Clarkson is capable of.