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Christina Aguilera - Liberation Music Album Reviews

Christina Aguilera - Liberation Music Album Reviews
The pop survivor shows off her powerhouse voice, dabbles in try-hard slang, and takes tentative steps toward creative rebirth on her first album since 2012.

The 2010s have been an uncertain decade for Christina Aguilera. The first ten years of her career saw her shapeshift from Delia’s catalog realness to her provocative “Xtina” persona to drama-club queen bee and back. But she kicked off the current decade by covering Marilyn Monroe and reinterpreting Marilyn Manson for Burlesque, one of the campiest pop-star vehicles this side of Glitter. Her most recent album, 2012’s Lotus, was a non-starter featuring two of her fellow coaches of “The Voice,” Cee-Lo Green (pre-date rape allegations) and Blake Shelton. (She’d already reached No. 1 with the fourth member of their inaugural cohort, Adam Levine, thanks to her guest appearance on Maroon 5’s 2010 hit “Moves Like Jagger.”) Lotus was supposed to be a rebirth, but it faltered. Entertainment Weekly called its first-week sales “the sad trombone at the end of [Aguilera’s] comeback.”

The rollout of her eighth album, Liberation, suggests she’s done selling anything that doesn’t fit into her true vision of herself: She posed without makeup on the cover of Paper magazine, and her cover art is similarly stripped down. And the album is, at the very least, a reminder that—holy shit—she can sing. As contemporary radio continues to favor lighter vocal performances from artists like Halsey and Charlie Puth, Aguilera’s powerhouse voice remains the nucleus of her sound, even when she’s tinkering with trap tropes and try-hard slang.

Are those moments a total bummer? Absolutely. “Pipe” includes lyrics like, “I just left a lituation popping by the High Line/Walked in, no list, fuck a go sign,” and, “Got a couple secrets that I'd really love to see if you could keep/Damn, boy, you remind me of my Jeep.” In 2018, “lituation” is a word for children and the cast of “Jersey Shore,” and R. Kelly references belong only in a trash compactor. The album’s Kanye West-produced lead single, “Accelerate,” is equally unconvincing; crackly vocals from the usually hefty-voiced Ty Dolla $ign do it no favors.

Aguilera’s 2010 album, Bionic, featured cutting-edge singles like “Woohoo”—an ode to oral sex featuring Nicki Minaj—and “Elastic Love,” which was co-written by guest vocalist M.I.A. (And this was nearly two years before Madonna enlisted both Minaj and Maya for “Gimme All Your Luvin’.”) The sound of Bionic was perhaps too forward-thinking, a risk that could have reaped the rewards of poptimism if the album had only been released a few years later. Liberation isn’t completely devoid of progressive moments: “Like I Do” is one spot where contemporary pop fare suits Aguilera. D.C. rapper GoldLink, who had his first real crossover hit with last year’s “Crew,” delivers a verse that confirms her continued relevance in hip-hop; his reference to her 1999 debut single, “Genie in a Bottle,” is a tidy hat-tip to the double meaning of Aguilera singing a can’t-do-it-like-me track.

And most people can’t. The ballad “Deserve” is confessional and explicit—“Sometimes I don't think I deserve you/So I say some fucked-up shit just to hurt you,” she sings—resulting in one of her strongest showings on the album. Early interlude “Searching for Maria” finds Aguilera singing operatic a cappella while invoking “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?” from The Sound of Music, followed by a full track called “Maria” (produced by West and Hudson Mohawke) that Aguilera says is about finding her true self. “[It’s] about feeling as if I've gotten really far removed from myself and unable to feel good about looking in the mirror, because I don't feel like I'm connected with my truth,” she told Paper.

“Maria” also marks the beginning of a triptych of album highlights. “Sick of Sittin’” has writing and production credits from Anderson .Paak and wouldn’t be out of place in his personal catalog (save for the lyric, “It’s good pay, but it’s slavery,” which sounds a little tone-deaf in context). “Fall in Line,” a duet with Demi Lovato, is a confidence booster without melodrama. The singers proclaim their refusal to be silenced while screwed chants from an ersatz drill sergeant instruct them, “Left two, three, right, two, three/Shut your mouth, stick your ass out for me.” These are sturdy moments on an album that feels less like an end in itself than a promising first step toward a genuine pop rebirth—moments that are strong enough to inspire hope for Aguilera’s own The Velvet Rope or, at least, My Love Is Your Love. She has certainly still got the range.

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