Breakaway (RCA) **
Kelly Clarkson, the first American Idol winner, has abundant natural talent, and her second album shows she's learned how to use it outside of the TV spotlight. Breakaway is lighter on the dance tunes than last year's Thankful while still mixing up '80s-style pop-rock, R&B-flavored numbers and sweeping ballads.
This time, the Texas-born chanteuse digs deeper emotionally, and the songs - some co-written by her, others co-written by such fellow pop singers as Avril Lavigne and Chantal Kreviazuk - generally fit better with her upbeat, down-to-earth personality.
Perhaps the greatest asset of Breakaway - whose title track plays like Clarkson's anthem, about a small-town girl going for it - is that she sounds more like herself, which allows her to move beyond the typical. Sure, she affects the usual romance-related moods, from the inner-turmoil heartbreak of "Behind These Hazel Eyes" to the yearning of "Where Is Your Heart," but she also explores a more complex pain in "Because of You."
Such rockers as "Gone," a kiss-off to an errant lover who tries to return, are slick, but the production is never so epic that she's overwhelmed. There's some corn, such as the hackneyed concept of being "Addicted" to love, but she mostly emphasizes the importance of self-respect and being treated right, without sounding strident but treating it as a given. (Which, of course, it is.)
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