Credit: Vincent Peters

In 2002, America’s newly minted idol stood in front of a rapt TV audience and delivered a stunned, ecstatic rendition of the cloud nine coronation song “A Moment Like This.” Fifteen years, three Grammys, and a pile of gold and platinum later, all the girl from Fort Worth with the Texas-size range wants on Meaning of Life‘s soulful, slow-rolling intro is literally “A Minute” — “just for me…just to breathe.”

She manages to eke out 70 seconds, actually, but nearly every song on Kelly Clarkson’s eighth studio album serves as a record and reflection of the life she lives now: a 35-year-old superstar and mother of four (including two stepchildren); a defiant champion of her prerogative to change sounds and labels midstream; “a grown-ass woman,” in her own words, who’s earned the right to have her music mark exactly where she’s at. The intimate, R&B-drenched Meaning circles those themes with a new kind of confidence, swinging from breezy finger-snap seduction on lead single “Love So Soft” to full surrender on the smitten, take-me-to-church title track and the tender retro swoon “Cruel.” She’s also not above calling out an unreliable man on bouncy rebukes like “Didn’t I” and “Would You Call That Love,” evoking Michelle Obama’s cheek-turning wisdom on “Go High,” or extolling the PG-13 virtues of a bigger girl on the warm-biscuits-and-wide-hips celebration “Whole Lotta Woman.”

As cohesive and self-assured as this collection feels, Meaning doesn’t seem especially interested in scaling the heights of early smashes like “Since U Been Gone” or “Because of You.” Instead, it swings low and sweet — a refreshingly real dispatch from an artist expressing exactly what she feels in this moment, and nothing less.