Christina Aguilera - Bionic. (album review)

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14 juin 2010, 21h22m



As you can tell from my current blog layout, I am very much feeling the imagery of Christina Aguilera’s current Bionic era. It’s fierce, severe and pushes the envelope. Artwork such as the front cover (above) and other graffiti-inspired cyborg manipulations handled by D*Face push the envelope and also serve to symbolise Christina as human machine which creates fine music hence “Bionic”. Various analyses of this robotic imagery could be and have been made: on the one hand, Christina Aguilera in her superhuman form triumphs over all her competitors and makes superior , near-perfect music because she has this bionic element to her; on the other hand, as part-robot, Christina can only ever produce a facsimile of what music is supposed to be, while never quite getting close enough to the organic, human qualities in music that elevate it beyond the calculable – qualities which cannot be quantified or mechanised. In Bionic, as in life, the truth lies somewhere between these two opinions.

Bionic the album is a long listen – 18 tracks in its standard version, 23 in its deluxe (with iTunes bonus track “Little Dreamer”, a likeable but throwaway confection, making a grand total of 24). I’ll dispense with the additional 5 bonus tracks first: they are, by and large, bonus tracks for a reason: either they are not strong enough to be considered for the main album (“Monday Morning” is pleasant but lackadaisical; “Birds of Prey” is lyrically mysterious and interesting, but musically and vocally it’s too much mainstream dance that Kelis would do a lot better with on her current Flesh Tone project), or they don’t fit thematically with the empowering / sexual / carefree / mature feel of the album. ”Bobblehead” is a thrilling production that stutters and races to its climax with the wonderful lyric: “I never play dumb to get what I want / and always come out the one that’s on top”; however, its main hook is a nonsensical mumble that may be the point of the lyrics, dissing idiot girls who dumb themselves down and preferring to deploy her own intelligence, but it’s still a nonsensical mumble which fails to use Christina’s vocals to much effect. ”Stronger Than Ever” is a ballad that is lyrically strong (and embodies my current struggle with my parents) and vocally able, but it just lacks that something. ”I Am (Stripped)” is a lovely album closer but is a more acoustic version of one of the main album tracks, and so it’s understandable why it’s relegated to bonus status.

So, to the main event. To my ear, Bionic moves in three arcs. In its first, it goes for the jugular with relentless, futuristic uptempos; it then cools down into a sensuous, emotionally vulnerable, mature ballad section; finally, it picks up again for a closing triad of uptempo songs that epitomise fun. While it’s possible that the album could be trimmed down to make a more concise, compelling listen, it flows very nicely throughout and only has a couple of stumbling points. Christina Aguilera said that she wanted something which sounded futuristic, but with elements of the organic; something which integrated her new emotional maturity as a mother with her desire to remain playful and sexy. On this point, she has succeeded: Bionic has elements of all of this. Tracks such as “Bionic” and “Elastic Love” incorporate computerised effects to distort Christina’s voice, along with buzzing, whirring productions that sonically embody the bionic cyborg face of her album cover. However, on tracks such as standout “You Lost Me” and “All I Need”, Christina is stripped of the musical gloss of the faster tracks to be backed by little more than a piano. ”All I Need” is also a touching, mature tribute to her son, which nicely avoids being mawkish or saccharine like Britney Spears’ unlistenable “My Baby” from Circus. Finally, sex is all over this album, and from the enticing “Woohoo” to the seductive “Sex for Breakfast” (which I have yet to play for my boyfriend, but when I next see him in July, I am using this song on him!), it’s explicit without being pornographic, edgy without crossing that line. In this respect, the Christina Aguilera of “Dirrty” is still present, knowing how to be provocative while still being musically relevant.

However, in the video for “Not Myself Tonight”, Xtina makes her return and perhaps pushes the envelope a little too far. S&M get-ups, Madonna tributes aplenty, and bisexual flirtations are almost par for the course at this point, and Christina Aguilera is more than entitled to use them considering her influence on current female artists in the mainstream over the past 10 years.* However, although “Not Myself Tonight” is an understandable choice as Bionic‘s lead single considering its radio-friendly sound, it’s not futuristic and it’s not exciting enough to merit the edgy, sex-fuelled imagery. Rather than hookless, it sounds like a bunch of hooks jostling together for attention over a dance beat (which has a couple of exciting tribal flourishes), the result of which means that sometimes the song sticks, on other listens it doesn’t quite get there. A better first single might have been the thrilling, soaring title track, or uptempo album standout and follow-up single “Woohoo”, on which Xtina extols the virtues of good oral sex, recruits Nicki Minaj for a fine rap segment, uses her vagina (the titular “Woohoo!”) for a cowbell, and tops it off with a throbbing, buzzing dance break coda for good measure. Along with “You Lost Me”, “Lift Me Up” and album closer “Vanity”, “Woohoo” is an album standout where all of Christina’s chemical ambitions for Bionic come together perfectly to produce some exemplary pop.

Bionic itself has no bad songs, but there is some filler: “Prima Donna” comes at the end of the first album arc of jugular-ripping uptempos, and is the weakest of them, with little lyrical know-how or production excitement to give it its own identity after the tracks preceding it. ”My Girls” is a ‘riding in the car with your top down’ sort of song, but comes off as fluffy compared to the album’s meatier offerings: although Christina proves (responding to criticisms that she oversings) that she can vocally restrain herself on songs such as “Elastic Love” with its amusing and witty stationery metaphors, and the tender “All I Need”, “My Girls” needs the vocal melisma to give it some spark; as it stands, it’s a little too laid back. Nevertheless, 2 out of 18 songs (or 15, excluding interludes) is not bad and perhaps a better result than I was expecting. Sure, several songs on the album are not immediate: “Glam” takes a few listens to hit its stride with its subtle, fibrillating beats and “Vogue”-esque spoken-word verses, while “Vanity” initially startles the listener with its unbridled use of the word “bitch”, references to Christina making herself “wetter” before marrying herself as her “lawfully wedded bitch” and effectively giving the finger to everyone who doesn’t have such bravado. Only by the song’s end (and possibly a couple of repeat listens) does it sink in that the track is a storming highlight, a perfect album closer, utterly hilarious and ridiculous (and knowingly so), with a vocal flourish that knocks all competition to the floor before her son’s voice confirms all suspicions: his mother really is the shit.

At the end of the day, it’s this kind of confidence that makes Bionic a great success – Christina Aguilera believes that she rules the world, and this kind of ambition almost single-handedly propels her music to heady heights. It’s a new page for Christina, and she’s secure enough in her ability to try different things: the mélange of styles is a little disorientating until repeated listens expose the subtleties and intricacies in her vocals, lyrics and the songs themselves. ”Lift Me Up” is another beautiful, soaring track that was slightly superior in its stripped down live version performed on the Haiti telethon, but still thrills within the album. ”I Am” is a declaration of humanity, imperfection and adulthood that lends substance to the polished sheen of Bionic‘s robotic side, deployed confidently, efficiently and effectively for example on clubsong “Desnúdate” (which neatly remembers and includes Christina’s Spanish-speaking audience and heritage). If Christina experiments with textures in her voice, sometimes preferring subdued rumbles to soaring melismas, she still shows that she can do both better than most other female artists. At the end of the day, Christina Aguilera is an musical artist with a personal and professional vision that she fulfils 85% of the time. Her misfires are excusable and never in poor taste so much as merely a little bland or inconsistent – in time, Christina will learn to totally excise these from her projects. Most importantly, while some of Bionic indeed caters to current mainstream tastes and is hardly an obscure sonic revelation, the majority of it is interesting and thrilling, and rings true as Christina Aguilera’s own personality and intention which doesn’t give a fuck about current radio trends (in my opinion, less than half of Bionic would get spins on mainstream radio). For this, her sales might suffer, but her artistic integrity remains intact and hopefully the mainstream radio audiences and buying public one day will catch up.



* I’ll address this once and only once: anyone who thinks that Christina Aguilera is copying Lady Gaga is a) suffering from memory loss and should go back to Christina Aguilera’s last two album eras which were mired with controversy and blazed with exciting fashions and imagery, b) suffering from hearing loss as Christina can sing GaGa – and pretty much anyone else – under the table, c) has no respect for what Aguilera has achieved over the past 10 years - while GaGa has had a fantastic 2-year run and displays much potential (her music and videos are definitely getting more intriguing), she’s still only been around 2 years and more respect should be shown to anyone who successfully completes a decade in the music industry, and d) is completely overlooking Gwen Stefani, whose hairstyle Christina mimics in her “Not Myself Tonight” video, and whose image, sound and career Lady GaGa has borrowed liberally from, mixed with a bunch of fashion designers, and passed off as her own to those too young, too unaware or too amnesiac to know any better.

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more music news & reviews and personal reflection from the heart here, on my blog! - http://iamchase.wordpress.com

Commentaires

  • zandra16

    Thanks for this!!

    14 juin 2010, 21h40m
  • BritneyFanFeva

    You are way way way to positive about it. Unless the music is new to you personally. You would've heard it all before. It's unnerving how out of touch with reality you're review is...but whatever. and fuck being around for 10 years...she only worked for about 6 of those years..the rest of the time she was chillaxing, getting married, getting drunk or with her child. Stop making excuses. In a perfect world working for ten years would insure a good record...but sadly it doesn't people do become irrelevent you know. But hey maybe you'll get more people to waste their money on her stupid record. No harm to me personally. I do agree Bionic would've made her look better as a first single. All I Need is non-sense, I don't even get it. My Baby may be saccherine, but if you've ever looked after a child you'd understand the sentiments compared to the obscurity of All I Need which too me is too open to interpretation to be a song which I could identify with. Sex for Breakfast is also very heard it before ish. but I like it regardless. I agree with your oppinions with Elastic Love and Bionic and the ballads are pretty good. all the other tracks are lame though IMO IMO IMO IMO IMO Don't get offended, but you come off very stannish in this review and I thought I'd bring light to the other side, the darker side of how this record has come off as far as the rest of the world is concerned. I definitely this will help people consider buying the record more though. Props for that..It's a well written review.

    15 juin 2010, 6h03m
  • Reptilaa

    congrats on this one.

    15 juin 2010, 16h54m
  • stilldirrtyja

    THANK YOU! Finally someone said it. There's no copying Gaga here. If X-tina sounds and looks like anyone else it'd had to be Gwen Stefani

    22 juin 2010, 20h54m
  • supersmashsteve

    I never got why everyone said she copied Gaga, she said way back when she did back to basics that the next album would be "futuristic", but I think Gaga (who did work hard) managed to get there before Christina, she's not a mother so she can work 24/7, but it's just a trend in music, everyone's doing the whole futuristic electronic thing, not just Christina Aguilera! Not a fan of Christina, and don't plan to buy this record, I am interested in hearing the M.I.A. track, though. I tried listening to Sex For Breakfast and I just found it unintentionally hilarious, sorry! Wasn't a big fan of Not Myself Tonight either. Maybe not for me, but I guess her fans understand it a lot more than I do. :)

    8 jui. 2010, 8h37m
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