Christina Aguilera, Bionic (* * * out of four)
Janet took control; Madonna opened her heart and got erotic. Now another icon is asserting her creative and sexual autonomy with a post-feminist manifesto on love and lust. And her name is ... Christina Aguilera?
Don't snicker just yet. Like her forebears, Aguilera, whose Bionic arrives today, has shown an affinity for adapting her persona to the winds of mass culture. On previous albums, the ex-Mouseketeer — set to make her big-screen debut this fall in Burlesque— has been a soul-savvy teen idol, a trashy tease and a born-again chanteuse.
But Aguilera never blurred the lines between cipher and chameleon as artfully as Madonna or Jackson. And since she took time off to have a baby in 2008, the field for female attention-seekers has become more crowded, with Lady Gaga now the leading proponent of blond ambition.
Still, Aguilera possesses an asset that many competitors lack: a superior vocal instrument. And on Bionic, she harnesses her prowess with greater maturity and imagination.
The songs are hardly revelatory, their naughty references seldom more provocative than the accessibly electro-edgy textures. But Aguilera's singing lends color and character to what might have been banal diva vehicles. In Glam, she chants deadpan before letting loose a creamy belt that evokes an earthier version of Whitney Houston in her prime. The thumping, funk-kissed Des Nudites features similar eruptions, applied with the intuition and taste that distinguish singers from showboats.
It's when Bionic gets past sex, though, that Aguilera impresses most. On the ballads I Am and You Lost Me, she respectively offers her soul to a lover and, after a betrayal, reclaims it, sounding as raw as an open wound. Her nuanced beauty here may surprise fans as much as critics.
Whether that growth will be embraced remains to be seen. The leadoff single has hardly been a pop blockbuster, and when Aguilera postponed a summer tour, some speculated that insufficient interest in her new music was a factor.
But whatever Aguilera's future commercially, Bionic proves that she's determined to be more than just a technical dynamo.
Source: USA Today