So much for following your own muse. Much was made about Kelly Clarkson’s battle royale with label head Clive Davis when the time came to release her third album, My December.

Davis wasn’t so sure about the album’s commercial prospects. Kelly was proud of the album and her songwriting. Kelly won the battle, but Clive and his minions won the war.

My December sold just short of a million copies. Not a bad number at all, but it was 5 million copies less than her previous album had sold. Clarkson was a superstar on the rise, but My December‘s relative failure threatened to at least ruin her career as a superstar, despite December being the most interesting album she or any former “American Idol” had ever put out.

Surprise, surprise. For album number four, Clarkson tucks her tail between her legs and goes crawling back to Davis, who hooked her right back up with the writers and producers who made Breakaway (Clarkson’s big, big sophomore effort) such a big hit. All I Ever Wanted sounds focus-grouped to within an inch of its life.

The sound seems made by someone sitting at a board meeting with a copy of Breakaway and telling Kelly how to repeat the cycle.  All I Ever Wanted has more hooks and hits than its predecessor,  but I can’t help but be saddened by the lack of originality on Kelly’s (or more accurately, her writers and producers’) part. Besides, I’m all about resisting authority. I’m such a badass. Grrrrrrr.

Why I Hate Kelly Clarkson’s Album

My hatred immediately began bubbling to the surface after hearing My Life Would Suck Without You, the album’s first single. Sure, the song’s an earworm, guaranteed to be sung by teenage girls, young women and gay men into hairbrushes around this great country of ours, but I can’t shake the fact that it sounds…exactly…like Since U Been Gone. Of course artists rip themselves off all the time, but it sounds especially desperate coming from Kelly, like “Hey, remember me? I sang that song!!!”. There’s a point where you go from homage to tasteless ripoff, and I think Suck crosses that line.

Unfortunately, this is one of the album’s more memorable songs.  I kept getting sucked into “where have I heard this one before?” as I listened.  Nearly every song is reminiscent of another. Kelly even rips herself off again on the guitar-heavy Don’t Let Me Stop You, which steals the intro to Behind These Hazel Eyes. The album’s title track works the staccato dance/rock vibe that Franz Ferdinand made popular a couple years back (slowed down a step or two), while Already Gone is melodically and stylistically similar to Beyonce’s Halo. Small wonder that both songs were co-written by OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder.

Honestly, what saves All I Ever Wanted from being a complete hot mess is Kelly’s voice. I think someone should have Kelly challenge Pink to a sing-off.  They are two of the greatest voices of their generation and even sound a helluva lot alike. No one disputes that Kelly can sing the paint off of a wall, and while there are a couple of big ballads that show off her wailing capacity (like the Avril Lavigne-esque Cry and the sappy closing track If No One Will Listen), she really shines when the tempo speeds up a little. If I Can’t Have You has got a shimmering synth-rock vibe that’s perfect for jumping up and down in place, while Whyyawannabringmedown contains Kelly’s most face-melting vocal on a song that suggests Pat Benatar on speed.

I Really Do Like Kelly Though

I really like Kelly Clarkson. She seems like a smart girl, very self-effacing and understanding of how the machine works. However, that has nothing to do with her music, and I’ve gotta say that none of her albums has really struck a chord with me or held up to repeated plays. This album may be the worst offender of all, because not only is the song craft dialed down a notch from Breakaway (chalk it up to the desperation the writers felt trying to come up with another #1 hit), but Kelly’s personality is almost non-existent on this album, something of a shame after she perfected her woman-scorned image on her last album.

All I Ever Wanted really just amounts to another album that sounds OK while it’s on but doesn’t have any lasting value. By bowing down to the industry suits, Kelly has traded in any long-term respect for a quick fix. So what happens when she decides she wants to flex her artistic muscle again?