By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
Kelly Clarkson's label's rumored hatred of her new albumtheir disapproval of her decision to hire fewer songwriters, coupled with the abrupt cancellation of a too-optimistic tourmakes this a moment of reckoning not just for Clarkson, but for an empire that may finally have overextended itself. If Sony's right, it's the first real failure of a queenmaking system heretofore alarmingly lucrative; if they aren't, it's proof American Idol can survive even its victors' desires to get personal.
Sadly, this round goes to Sony. If 2004's Breakaway invaded Avril Lavigne territorywhere the artist sprinkles statements of purpose amid professionals' excellent songsMy Decemberis her arrival at what more people might call authenticity if "Since U Been Gone" hadn't made that word go away. The album's longer, sloppier; there are Acoustic Laments; the first single, like most of the tracks, concerns a breakup we presume actually happened; the surprisingly deft second single, "Sober," is about being three months clean of . . . something. (Maybe a guy!) Clarkson takes her emotional cues from Breakaway's "Because of You"soul-searching without ever finding faultand unfortunately performs as if she's constantly approaching that song's climax. There's little here not sung in the flatlined keen that Clarkson's voice becomes when she belts, and the songs' dramatic arcs don't give heror usany time to take stock. Rockers blur into each other with a few exceptions ("Don't Waste Your Time," "How I Feel"); ballads blur into a lot worse than that.
It's this homogeneity that sinks the record. My December doesn't believe in happiness unearned by a dozen tracks of despair, and maybe it's right, but as a method of escaping Avrilian insincerity, it's dull beside Avril's own. Built on the old gamble that one person's heart makes better poetry than six people's paychecks, it's too one-note to wintoo desirous of being real, and too convinced that anguish is more real than joy.