Christina Aguilera sounds liberated on long awaited sixth album
Fans of Christina Aguilera had to wait six years for it and might have doubted if the day would ever come, but her sixth album is finally out. Aguilera first rose to fame at the end of the 90s and remained one of the biggest female pop stars in the world with the successful eras of her second album Stripped (2002) and third record Back To Basics (2006). Follow ups Bionic (2010) and Lotus (2012) could not match her previous successes and Christina disappeared from the scene for a while, but she is ready to hit back with the album that proves her return to form, Liberation!
Aguilera made the unusual decision to start the campaign for Liberation with ‘Accelerate’, a track with two features. While A Bit of Pop Music’s review criticized the track for being a poor single choice, I have to admit now that the song makes much more sense in context to the rest of the album. The production, partly done by Kanye West, is all kinds of brilliant and even the unusual vocal layering starts to sound enjoyable after a while. It was a bold move that might not have paid off fully, but it shows how Aguilera and her team are doing what they feel like at this stage in her career. Liberation most of all shows Aguilera experiment with different genres and she uses her voice like she has never done before.
The record starts out with a classical sounding piano piece and another vocal interlude, to finally get going with the track ‘Maria’. The build up is impeccable and Aguilera sounds more mature and confident than ever before. On ‘Sick Of Sittin’’ she dives head first into bluesy rock and gives us one of the rawest vocal performances of her career. This track is a big contrast to the smooth and sexy R&B of ‘Right Moves’, which might be her best chance at a radio hit these days. The chorus might be slightly one-dimensional, but the hook is there and the laidback drum based production almost demands you to subtly move your hips.
A Christina Aguilera record of course would be nothing without a few proper ballads. One of the absolute highlights is ‘Deserve’, a track written by pop stars Julia Michaels and MNEK (who provides backing vocals too). The dramatic chorus talks about feeling like you are not good enough for your partner. This tune is more radiofriendly than most of the promo singles have shown to be. Album closer ‘Unless It’s With You’, just like the as promo single released ‘Twice’, is a more traditional type of ballad, which seems inspired by gospel and results in a big finale in which Christina shows off those signature vocals we missed for six years. At the same time however she discovered in her absence that ‘the bigger the better’ is not always true when it comes to vocals. The minimal production of track ‘Pipe’ (which apparently features a rap by F1 star Lewis Hamilton under a stage name) thrives thanks to her stunning and sensual understated delivery which she keeps up for the whole track. This makes it into one of the freshest and exciting tunes to be found here and something we haven’t heard Aguilera do before.
Although Christina reinvented herself in more than one way, not every single track lands as well as it could or maybe even should have done. ‘Masochist’ has an absolutely gorgeous light and dreamy production with synths that every pop artist would kill for, but lyrically the chorus just falls short. With sentences like “I must be some kind of masochist, to hurt myself in this way, cause loving you is so bad for me, but I just can’t walk away” they went for a moving depiction of an abusive relationship, but the simple wordings here border on clichés.
Liberation as a whole is quite interlude heavy which sometimes kills the flow of the record slightly as we could have easily done without most of them. Demi Lovato duet ‘Fall In Line’ did not really need the children’s voices of ‘Dreamers’ as an intro, because the track’s supportive message for young women is clear and strong enough on its own. Nobody can ignore the lyrics of that powerhouse chorus! Christina Aguilera’s Liberation is worthy of its title with a progressively produced body of work on which the sexual jams gain depth through understatement and the variety of ballads show off the broad range of her vocal capacity, both out loud and with restraint. I think it is safe to say this is the album you would hope the pop star who dropped Stripped in her early 20s would be capable of in her late 30s.