Putting All I Ever Wanted on shuffle could, depending on your thought process, ruin or save the whole experience. A far cry from Ms. Clarkson’s very public fight to write all her own songs on My December, All I Ever Wanted finds the singer co-penning just six of 14 songs (mostly with One Republic crooner Ryan Tedder). In this case, it’s a good thing Clarkson gave up some creative control, as her songs are generally the album’s weakest tracks (with the winners being string-infused rocker “Long Shot” and “Impossible”, which may be one of the best vocal performances of her storied career). Instead, All I Ever Wanted finds redeeming value in songs meant for Katy Perry or songs written by some of the biggest names in the game – lead single “My Life Would Suck Without You”, for example, has a veritable who’s-who of nameless songwriters behind it.
So it’s tough to really judge Ms. Clarkson, because so much of this album is simply not her. Sure, she had plenty of say on which pre-written songs would make it, but with each new writing credit comes another mood shift or jagged tempo upheaval. All I Ever Wanted has that classic characteristic of radio pop albums: a few singles crammed together before a bunch of useless filler. The album’s first four tracks are destined for road trips and karaoke stages. The Katy Perry demo “I Do Not Hook Up” has all the force of previous hits like “Breakaway” or “Behind Those Hazel Eyes”, except it’s less serious and dancey as hell. “Hook Up” leans on a massive chorus that will destroy radio as we know it. Following the rocker comes a Clarkson original called “Cry.” This is where I think her true talent lies; ballads that show off her amazing range. Clarkson’s ability to wallow in angst before letting loose with those formidable pipes is truly inspiring. (I still think American Idolshould have stopped while it was ahead when Clarkson was named its first champion. F**k Taylor Hicks.) The last of the surefire singles is “Don’t Let Me Stop You,” a Pink-esque number heavy on guitars with a chorus the size of New York City.
And then it’s mixed bag city. The title track deflates any momentum from “Stop You” with its boring bass and a chorus too heavy on shrieks. “If I Can’t Have You” is Clarkson’s own attempt at Katy Perry or Lady GaGa, but it lacks the youthful authenticity of those acts. See, we know Clarkson has had her fair share of relationship problems, and a Britney Spears beat just doesn’t do enough for her mature persona. “Whyyawannabringmedown”, despite a completely obnoxious name, is a ridiculously fun retro rocker that’s about as punk rock as any female-crooned song on RCA gets. Sadly, there’s just not enough regularity to grab a firm hold. One minute Clarkson’s a disco queen and the next she’s in all black doing her best Evanescence, and then randomly she’ll “just want to have fun!” The musical whirlwind makes All I Ever Wanted very hard to digest in one sitting.
All I Ever Wanted closes with indie-pop pretending on “Ready” and “I Want You”, the latter of which doesn’t even sound like Clarkson. She penned both songs, which means this whole cohesion thing is a bigger problem than I initially thought. Even Clarkson doesn’t know what music she wants to make. I could say it’s an “album for everyone,” which may be true, but only in the sense that you’ll probably like a few of the tracks. But there are very few people who will pop this in and love it all. Maybe this is still part of her experimental phase. Maybe she’s not done deciding on a persona. But isn’t that what demos are for?