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BUZZ: Kelly Clarkson trashes ex-husband on biting divorce album ‘Chemistry’: review

BUZZ: Kelly Clarkson trashes ex-husband on biting divorce album ‘Chemistry’: review

Kelly Clarkson is out for blood.

When the singer announced she had a divorce album on the way, she promised it would cover “the good, the bad and the ugly” to represent “the arc of an entire relationship.”

But “Chemistry” (out Friday) is heavy on the ugly, painting her ex-husband, Brandon Blackstock, as a sunshine-stealing, secret-harboring partner who made it his mission to bleed her dry after they separated in 2020.

Kelly Clarkson and Brandon Blackstock sitting together at an awards show.
The singer was married to Brandon Blackstock from 2013 to 2021.
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Clarkson, 41, tried to keep the divorce private at first, but once the dirty details within the former couple’s court filings started spreading “all over town,” as she puts it on the heart-wrenching opener, “Skip This Part,” she was left with no choice but to publicly defend herself.

“If I could escape all this gossip and shame, oh, I would,” she assures listeners before the lush production distorts and goes full-rock à la Billie Eilish’s “Happier Than Ever,” one of the many blistering breakup anthems Clarkson has covered on her daytime talk show since leaving Blackstock.

The biting burns continue on the double singles “Mine” and “Me.” Clarkson admits she “can’t believe” she stayed in her marriage for nearly seven years on the former, while the latter lays bare Blackstock’s “insecurity” and “secrets.”

A black-and-white portrait of Kelly Clarkson.
“Chemistry” includes the singles “Mine” and “Me.”
Brian Bowen Smith

“I bet you feel the absence of my love every night,” she snarls.

It’s no wonder Clarkson is bitter. As a product of divorce (her absentee father famously inspired her 2005 hit “Because of You”), she feared repeating her parents’ mistakes. But now that Clarkson’s worst nightmare has come true, she finds herself having to put on a brave face for the exes’ two children: River, 9, and Remington, 7.

“I’m getting tired / Always trying to do my best / When I don’t feel it / No, I don’t feel it,” she effortlessly belts on the synthy “High Road.”

Kelly Clarkson posing with her two kids in a dressing room.
The former couple share two young children.
Kelly Clarkson, Brandon Blackstock and their blended kids on a red carpet.
Blackstock also has two kids from a previous marriage.

Practicing self-love has helped the Grammy winner along the way.

On the infectious “Rock Hudson,” she reflects on being “fooled” by her ex’s charm before coming to a cathartic realization once she’s on her own: “Piece by piece / I found out my hero was me,” she sings in a callback to her 2015 ballad “Piece by Piece,” which celebrated Blackstock restoring her “faith that a man can be kind and a father could stay.” (That one didn’t age well.)

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Clarkson’s wrath is palpable on the brilliantly titled “Red Flag Collector,” which begins with a desert whistle straight out of a Western showdown before she warns a cowboy casanova to “keep on ridin’ ’til you can’t see us.” It’s the most brutally honest track on the album, with lyrics about Blackstock nickel-and-diming his multimillionaire ex throughout their legal battle.

Kelly Clarkson singing at the 2023 iHeartRadio Music Awards.
This is Clarkson’s first album since 2017’s “Meaning of Life.”
Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

“Sure, you can have the towels / You can take my money,” she gutturally growls. “Drag my name ’round town / I don’t mind, I changed it anyway.”

But the most emotional wallop on “Chemistry” is “Lighthouse,” a plaintive piano ballad that feels like a peek into the pages of Clarkson’s diary. Her powerhouse voice soars as she mourns her “crumbling” marriage and tries to adjust to days that are “harder than they used to be.”

Not every part of the record is a knife in the heart, though.

A promotional photo of Kelly Clarkson for her "Chemistry" album.
Clarkson’s Las Vegas residency begins in July.
Brian Bowen Smith

The inaugural “American Idol” winner shows off her comedic chops on the Nick Jonas-co-written “I Hate Love” as she intones, “You can keep Gosling, and I’ll take Steve Martin,” the latter of whom plays banjo on the track (yes, that Steve Martin). The Carly Rae Jepsen-penned dance jam “Favorite Kind of High,” meanwhile, is one of the few love songs of the bunch, chronicling the butterflies that come with a crush.

Clarkson’s most triumphant body of work since 2011’s “Stronger” — and possibly even 2004’s “Breakaway” — concludes with “That’s Right,” a breezy ditty with some Latin flair and the legendary Sheila E. on the drums. You can practically feel her wounds start to heal as she croons lines like “Keep the money / I’ll take freedom” and “I let you go with the tide.”

Maybe her life won’t suck without him after all.


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