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Christina Aguilera “Bionic” Review

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While recently discussing Bionic with Out Magazine, Christina Aguilera explained her musical evolution, noting that “every album has been a 180 from the past.” Similar to the focus throughout her entire career, Bionic isn’t meant to be so much of a personal reinvention as another step forward in the singer’s ever-evolving style. While her statement leaves a lot to the imagination concerning what the album actually sounds like, if one thing was to be made clear when debuting the video for “Not Myself Tonight” in late-April, it’s that Bionic would definitely be a full-on examination of the 29-year old’s sexuality.

That said, the video should have come as little shock for those who have followed the singer throughout her career. Rising from the bubblegum-gone-wild pop scene of the late-’90s, Aguilera made headlines in 2002 with the release of her sophomore album, Stripped. In particular it was the David LaChapelle-directed video for “Dirrty” that would attract the bulk of the criticism aimed at the singer, Aguilera revving up the video with her grind-heavy dancing while shedding her clothes and her “good girl” reputation in the process. In discussing “Dirrty” with Blender, she explained, “I like to shock—I think it’s inspiring. I love to play and experiment, to be as tame or as outlandish as I happen to feel on any given day.” Again, that was nearly eight years ago. So with that in mind it’s not unimaginable that she’s landed where she has, with the convictions she has. Regardless, it still comes as a surprise when she repeats “The old me’s gone, I feel brand new, and if you don’t like it: fuck you” throughout “Not Myself Tonight.”

Bionic’s title track opens things up with a beat that relies heavily on the same rigid electronic sound that M.I.A. has helped popularize over the past few years; which is only fitting since the singer eventually joins Aguilera on “Elastic Love.” The aforementioned “Not Myself Tonight” follows, immediately shifting the album’s direction as the song primarily focuses on Aguilera’s voice rather than disjointed beats. Bionic continues by returning to a non-traditional sound with the fractured beats of the album’s second single, “Woohoo.” Co-written by Claude Kelly (Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Kelly Clarkson) and featuring a verse from Nicki Minaj, the song further drives home Bionic’s multi-layered theme, “let me hear you scream, but bitches keep it clean.”

“Let’s get glam” repeats Aguilera in “Glam,” a fun pop song that has as much in common with Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical” as it does Daft Punk’s “Technologic.” The kitschy “Prima Donna” follows with the singer continually returning to the “I’m a prima donna” refrain while Lil Jon-like hollers shoot off like fireworks in the background. (Although uncredited, if it’s not actually Lil Jon in the song I’d be shocked.) It’s around this point in the album that Bionic begins to shift from Aguilera’s electronic-focused tracks to what might be best described as “Classic Christina.”

The far too short “Morning Dessert”—which is one of the most genuinely sexy songs on Bionic—introduces “Sex For Breakfast,” which boasts a slow groove suitable for R. Kelly. The track was produced by Detail who, to no surprise, has also worked slow jammer-turned yodeler in the past. “Lift Me Up” eventually sags as its sentimentality weighs the track down, Aguilera repeating “If you lift me up” to a point of redundancy. “Will you lift me even higher to rise above this earth?” It wasn’t good when Scott Stapp went down that road and it’s not particularly great now. The far-more-bearable “All I Need” follows, echoing a similar tone but with an odd, intangible depth to it. One of three tracks on the record co-written by Sia Furler, “All I Need” is followed by Sia’s other contributions, “I Am” and “You Lost Me.”

“I Hate Boys,” as playful as it is, is simply goofy and off putting when following what is clearly meant to be the most heartfelt stage of the record. Or maybe that’s the point? Either way, the Le Tigre collaboration track feels out of place, despite being followed by the equally silly team-up with Peaches, “My Girls.” Sadly, the pair of songs end up sounding more like they belong on a Spice Girls comeback album rather than an electronic-leaning record featuring the likes of M.I.A., Manja, and, well, Peaches. “My girls, we’re stronger than one, and sometimes we gotta have fun.” Exactly.

“I’m not cocky, I just love myself, bitch” opens Aguilera in “Vanity.” She continues, “Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the flyest bitch of them all? Never mind I am (that bitch is so fucking crazy), yeah I am (if I were her I would kiss me).” Considering the rest of Bionic—its ease in pace and general shift towards lightheartedness—the track comes as something far more out of place than its predecessors. While the song’s synths hold firm throughout, it’s a little hard to follow the album’s progression and still take Aguilera seriously when she puts on a straight face and flaunts herself as a “bad ass bitch” in the track. Further adding to the discomfort of “Vanity” is the song’s final line, “Let us not forget who owns the throne” which is followed by (presumably) Aguilera’s daughter son, who replies “You do mommy.”

Bionic reflects a new direction for Christina Aguilera without abandoning the singer’s history and the sound that long-time fans have come to know. But there’s something there that still causes friction when listening. Unfortunately it is the most appealing part of Aguilera’s character that also works against her here: her outspoken openness toward her sexuality also acts as a barrier at times. It’s the singer’s insistence on relentlessly pushing her sexuality that becomes tiresome, not the album’s change in pace or awkward musical progression. It’s great that she’s standing for something and making it clear that she knows who she is—the tendency to be politically correct for the sake of not catching bad publicity has become all too prevalent. But eight years after “Dirrty,” Christina Aguilera is closing in on becoming routine rather than empowering, something which has been the downfall of far too many great singers.