With Meaning of Life, Kelly Clarkson opens up a new chapter of her career, moving from RCA to Atlantic Records. Switching labels gives Clarkson the freedom to pursue a different kind of music, an opportunity she seizes here by leaning hard into soul and R&B. Clarkson doesn't entirely abandon adult-leaning pop -- Greg Kurstin, one of the producers du jour in 2017, comes aboard for the sparkling "Would You Call That Love," a song that glistens -- but there's an undeniable soulful undercurrent on Meaning of Life. Certain styles bubble to the surface -- "Love So Soft" has a bounce straight out of Motown, "Heat" has a bit of gospel fire, "Move You" is Southern vamp -- but even if the construction is a throwback, the production on Meaning of Life is thoroughly modern, a seamless hybrid of retro flourishes and crisp electronics. There's a clean sheen to the sound, but Clarkson never seems to be chasing trends. As the title suggests, there's a maturity in the perspective of Meaning of Life: it's filled with songs about love and living, it's rooted in the past and living in the moment. The blend of contemporary and classic suits Clarkson, who sounds assured here in a way that differs from her earliest records. Controlled and confident, she certainly has her share of showstopping moments, but Clarkson always keeps her focus on the songs, which are consistently strong -- maybe her best overall set of songs yet. Even if they're not, Meaning of Life is one of her most satisfying albums: it feels like not just a collection of good tunes, but a statement of purpose.
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