Christina Aguilera – [Album]

Friday, 04 June 2010

Sometimes album art can be remarkably of what a pop star has in store for fans, whether they know what to make of it right away or not. Christina Aguilera's new album is a perfect example of that; at first glance, the tidy but mildly unsettling image of a Christina cyborg looks like something that could have graced the cover of a hair metal band's album in the Eighties or Nineties (it reminded me a bit of the album covers that Iron Maiden put on X Factor and Somewhere In Time) so the first assumption that a fan could make would be that {BIONIC} is the album that marks the return of Aguilera's “XTINA” persona from the time she spent getting “Dirrty” in 2002.

That XTINA is making a comeback on {BIONIC} is a reasonable enough (and correct) assumption for fans to make before fans even hear the record, but that's only half of it though.

As it turns out, the abstract/technological image on the album's cover also has a very literal bent in addition to the obvious figurative one. From the opening zap of the title track, there's no mistaking what the album's cover is meant to imply, at least in part: {BIONIC} marks the turn of XTINA Aguilera as a dance floor-ready, electroclash-informed pop act. What fans think of that will entirely depend on what they liked about the singer's music in the first place because a few of the technological accoutrements sit at perfect odds with what fans likely assumed were the singer's ground-level sensibilities.

Is that too vague? Look at it this way: theoretically, what has made electro-pop acts like MIA and Lady Gaga work is the fact that those artists are willing to work with and weave around a beat. That means they recognize that they're constrained by said beat; they don't try to overpower it because, to be honest, they know they don't have the pipes do put that off anyway. Christina Aguilera, on the other hand, is a soul singer at heart. She can sing, and likes to prove it; she likes to be the body that her music forms around – not vice versa – so “Bionic” seems to start the album off on an awkward note. The far too technologically reliant treatment of the song doesn't give the singer any room to open up her voice at all, and so producers John Hill and Switch is to cut, paste and edit Aguilera's vocals, thereby making them fit tight to the beat and removing the singer's personality from the song completely. In that opening track, the singer's voice gets used simply as another device – a tool to convey the idea of a singer – and so robs the song of any potency and deletes any impact the ominous spelling out of “XTINA” at the end of the song ay have carried. In effect, if the title track is meant to imply that XTINA is back, the most she's doing is returning on life support.

After that rather tepid introduction, at least things do begin to pick up with “Not Myself Tonight” but, again, not in any way that fans would assume. Happily, the electronics do part a bit to give Aguilera some room in her own mixes, but the singer is still a bit out of sorts as she concedes that she's playing a bit out of character (check the line, “I'm doing things that I normally don't do/the old me's gone, I feel brand new/and if you don't like it, fuck you”), but she's also throwing a bit of weight around that bounces off the electronic mixes. Aguilera tries to strike a balance between MIA's “galang” and her own pop-soul “glam” that ends up driving the rest of the record, but listeners will be left wondering where it's supposed to be going. Like Madonna did on Confessions From A Dancefloor, what listeners get on {BIONIC} is a slightly more mature affair that reflects the age of the singer but, while songs including “Sex For Breakfast,” “My Heart,” “Prima Donna” and “Glam” all go to great pains to point that out, they don't do much else and they do it so abrasively that it will put Aguilera's core audience (and their parents) off.

Looking at it from that standpoint, {BIONIC} is an interesting turn for Christina Aguilera, but the verdict is still out on how effective it will be; on one hand it'll scare the hell out of parents and will likely get some play on dancefloors, but it also pushes the boundaries of pop to see whether or not audiences are ready for Christina Aguilera to grow up and therein lies a Catch 22 that will either sustain or break her career; with this move made, how bad a hit will she take? To play devil's advocate, there's no arguing that Aguilera couldn't stay a kid forever, but {BIONIC} plays a bit like an earnest or forced evolution that deliberately overshoots its' mark to make a point; Christina Aguilera proves on this album that she actively does not want to be a kid anymore so, while she posed as “dirrty” years ago, this time out she actually IS dirty.



comes out on June 8, 2010 through RCA/Sony Music. Pre-order it here on Amazon .

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