Kelly Clarkson courses through a rollercoaster of heartbreak in her tenth album Chemistry. As no stranger to the highs and lows of love, the acclaimed singer-songwriter has poured the grief of her recent divorce into her latest release. Known for chart-topping hits such as Since U Been Gone and Because of You, Kelly has carefully crafted the art of conveying heartache using a combination of powerful vocal belts and delicate high notes. Chemistry keeps to this formula as the fourteen track record recounts a difficult healing journey that eventually leads her to a reclamation of independence and self-love.
The album opens with Skip This Part. Through soft vocals and a subtle instrumental, Kelly does not want to endure her anguish. “If I could escape this pain, oh I would/What it’s gonna take me to get through this break is no good.” The emotional ballad is heavy with a feeling of defeat, but this turns into a question of trust in Mine. She expresses that her light has been taken away, seeks out the eternal sunshine of a spotless mind, and releases a bone-chilling cry of “Was it all a lie?”. A twinkly synth melody introduces High Road, which takes on a pop rock sound when the chorus rolls in. Kelly’s strong voice is supported by low riffs and percussion that come together to fill the space throughout the rest of the song.
The album reaches its turning point with Me, which was released as a single alongside Mine. Offering a different perspective on her experience of loss, Kelly embraces her newfound independence after reflecting on the nature of being broken down in a codependent relationship. Accompanied by soft strings, piano and a choral arrangement, she opens the door for acceptance. “I don’t need somebody to hold me/Don’t need somebody to love me/Don’t need somebody to pick these pieces up.” Title track Chemistry comes in with minimal acoustic strumming and a deep, isolated bass line that Kelly’s vocals soar over. With ethereal melodies, she sings “Oh, our chemistry cuts me deep/I stay away ‘cause ‘round you my heart breaks.” Chemistry is sly and unavoidable, but can become toxic.
This follows into Favourite Kind Of High, another single from the album that is capable of standing on its own as it picks up the pace with a throbbing dance-pop setup that can easily be presented as a classic party ballad. Red Flag Collector is one of the record’s more unique additions. It plays like a Western standoff with acoustic guitar, whistling, distant footsteps and the neighing of horses. In a not-so-subtle nod to her country roots, the track is fiery and taunting. The bluesy I Hate Love plays on these roots with a pessimistic assertion that includes an unexpected feature from actor Steve Martin, who contributes a plucky banjo melody that eases the intensity of the lyrical content. That’s Right features Sheila E to bring the album to an invigorating close filled with bright horns and Latin-style percussion as Kelly chooses freedom, releasing her past relationship to return to herself.
Chemistry shows that grieving the end of a relationship is not linear. Kelly depicts a complicated process of fluctuating hurt and self-doubt, but makes room for important realisations. She invites listeners to not only explore this with her, but also to highlight that she is not stuck in her pain. A mix of heartfelt, vocal-driven sentiments and pop-rock instrumentals motivate a raw experience that has grown beyond the breakup songs that gained so much popularity almost ten years ago.