BECK Colors Capitol Records
Singer-songwriter Beck has never been very good at hiding how he’s feeling. If you made it through the defeated melancholy of Sea Change without wanting to hurl yourself off a cliff, congrats. A very different Beck comes across on Colors, a hook-driven bubbly CD he made with in-demand producer Greg Kurstin. Beck might be known more for his finely tuned downer rock, but he’s mostly angst-free here. One song is even titled I’m So Free.
The 10-track Colors is Beck’s most accessible, radio-friendly offering in years but, this being Beck, it’s brilliantly layered, with plenty of interesting things happening under the hood.
Beck hasn’t been this overtly poppy since Midnite Vultures in 1999, but that was harsh-sounding and more than a little nutty in comparison. Colors is smooth and warm and light.
The super Up All Night is a sweet song about older lovers — or maybe happy dads taking care of babies — in the quiet hours when “night is crawling up to the day.”
Perhaps the most unconventional song is Wow, a trippy, cowboy-dance hip-hop tune that swipes the theme from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and adds it to lyrics seemingly inspired by some weed. (“Wow/ It’s like right now/ It’s like wow.”) It should not make sense. But this is Beck, and he somehow makes it so.
KELLY CLARKSON Meaning of Life Atlantic Records
What’s that great sound on Kelly Clarkson’s new album? It’s proud, it’s sexy, it’s funny.
Oh, yes, that’s the sound of freedom.
On Meaning of Life, her first album since leaving longtime home Sony, the former American Idol winner seems liberated, more soulful and less poppy.
“Thought I could never leave?” she sings on the terrific I Don’t Think About You, which is a breakup song that could easily apply to her former employers.
Her last album, 2015’s Piece by Piece, was almost mournful in contrast to the 14-track Meaning of Life, which is brimming with humour, sass and light. “I’m hotter than your mama’s supper, boy,” she teases in Whole Lotta Woman, a bluesy, foot-stomper that borrows the horn section from Earth, Wind & Fire and might steam up your mirrors. “Hold on tight little country boy/ I ain’t no girl/ I’m a boss with orders.”
From the boot-stomping Love So Soft to the concentrated emotion in Move You and the bluesy Cruel, Clarkson’s voice hasn’t sounded better, soaring into Christina Aguilera territory with its subtlety, twists and stamina.
There’s simply no filler on her eighth studio album, her first with Atlantic Records. It opens with a song fragment in which Clarkson begs for some down time, “a minute just for me.” Once that’s over, it’s just Clarkson unleashed.