I once dated a girl who loved Christina Aguilera. By extension, I was all too familiar with the work of Ms. Aguilera (along with Jack Johnson, but that’s for another time). In my experience, the arc of her career is one you can plot nearly perfectly on a line graph. From virginal teen to crazed sexpot to mature R&B throwback goddess, the only consistency in her discography is the lack thereof. But in Bionic, the problem is that with so much going on, not even the listener knows what to glean or where Xtina’s really headed.
The lack of direction stems from a bad case of Madonna fever. In an attempt to further reinvent herself, Aguilera went all chameleon and recorded songs that sound just too familiar to a select list her management created in order to give her album an edge in the sales column. Whether it’s the relatively harmless (“Desnudate” features a chorus ripped from a Pitbull song, vocal style and all) to the embarrassing (the title track and and “Elastic Love” are like Santigold and M.I.A. ripoffs, respectively), the tracks themselves aren’t weak. Instead, even with brightly layered production from the likes of Polow Da Don, the lyrical styles made famous by the two female MCs are a massive step down for someone with the sheer vocal fury of Aguilera.
Bad impersonations seem like musical paradise when compared to the assaults against mankind that are “Woohoo” and “Vanity”. Referring to the female genitalia as “woohoo” when you’re not 12 is cringe-inducing and makes you question the depth she’ll go for mining a hit. But even that’s better than “Vanity”; this is the song you’d get from mixing Lady Gaga and Ke$ha and represents the worst aspects of Aguilera’s career: brain-dead corporate songwriting, overwrought sexualization at the cost of substance. and straight up bad vocals.
Worst songs of her career aside, “All I Need” and “Life Me Up” are more of what we should all want from her and what she should be doing. But when they come after so many songs about partying, it’s a little hard to see her as a dedicated mother and a monogamous partner. Again, a little consistency would help. “I Am” at least seems more fitting with the raunchy songs because it’s not a complete turn around and it offers some context and insight into the first half of the album.
Some of the better moments on the album involve the songwriting, the production, and Aguilera’s voice meeting in the middle. “Prima Donna” at least does something to establish herself as less of a party girl and more like the queen of good times, demonstrating the sexed up bass of her voice. “Sex For Breakfast” is another happy concession; it’s an awful concept that the public will eat up and a demonstration of her voice without the contrived and overly showy vocal demonstrations. “I Hate Boys” may be one of the catchiest songs on the album. It encapsulates a lot of her career and avoids the cliched pitfalls of being an utter sex fiend or being a hopeless romantic. And “My Girls” achieves a similar victory, even if it’s not nearly as anthemic. And if you’re going to rip off the whole feminist electro-clash thing, the least you can do is feature Peaches on the track.
While previous albums stood out more strongly as concise pieces of work, this new album only has brief instances of shiny pop magic, and the rest filled with the end results of poor musical craftsmanship in almost every aspect. Here’s hoping the next point in the graph trends upward.