Part of Kelly Clarkson’s job as a first-tier pop star is to make you care deeply about her personal romantic struggles — or to assume that you already do. Stronger seems to be the third part of a trilogy that began with 2007’s My December, her dark night of the soul (or, at least, her stab at an Evanescence album). After the spiky tone of 2009’s All I Ever Wanted comes this empowerment-themed disc, on which virtually every song is a recrimination to a lover who either broke Clarkson’s heart or underestimated her in some way. Appropriately, the music has shifted from rock and back to full-throttle dance-pop. And full-throttle remains the only way she ever sings: Even on the token rock ballad (“Standing in Front of You”), the urgency never lets up, and she embraces a clichéd lyric like the title line of “What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger)” as if it’s a world-saving insight. Yet that’s ultimately Clarkson’s strength: She hasn’t got an insincere bone in her body, and she throws herself into these familiar sentiments completely enough to make them touch a nerve.
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