Christina Aguilera - Bionic Review
Posted by Dan Pardalis on 06.09.2010
Christina has proven that switching styles sees success several times now. Can the same be said for her futuristic fourth album Bionic?
Going from a typical teen-pop star to a "Dirrty" girl and then a clean-cut retro-R&B songstress, Christina Aguilera has been through quite a few changes in her musical career. In 2010, she tackles electro-pop as a mechanised version 2.0 of her second album's X-rated personality. The question remains, however: can reincarnation work for her a third time?
2. Not Myself Tonight
4. Elastic Love
6. Love & Glamour (Interlude)
8. Prima Donna
9. Morning Dessert (Interlude)
10. Sex for Breakfast
11. Lift Me Up
12. My Heart (Interlude)
13. All I Need
14. I Am
15. You Lost Me
16. I Hate Boys
17. My Girls
The album opens with its namesake “Bionic”, featuring an industrial-meets-tribal production from indie beat-king Switch which rolls steadily underneath Christina’s rapid fire melodics. Mechanical stamping and some vocal re-sampling amp up the energy on the bridge, as some winding electronic synths drop in to round out the hook. Despite this being our introduction to the album, and essentially the first thing we really hear of her comeback, Christina doesn’t really say too much worth noting. But, as we’ll see throughout the album, she seems to be less into making statements, and more about making her presence known.
The main single “Not Myself Tonight” follows on, with the rippling basslines and trance synths from the previous song seeping through to this track. This, in combination with producer Polow Da Don’s characteristic thumping kicks and unique sense for percussion, makes this track both radio and club-ready. As becomes a theme of the album, the subject matter is relatively generic, but isn’t necessarily any worse than anything else on the radio. What it does boast however, is some very pleasant melodic and rhythmic progression before eventually reaching its club-friendly crescendo. The song goes a little long with just Christina on it, and seems like it would have been perfect for a party rapper like Ludacris or Pitbull to jump on and bring the energy up towards the end, but that’s a minor criticism for what is pretty much already a hit.
The second single introduces itself with some atmospheric bass and electronic pops before it switches up completely into a light-hearted, bouncy Polow beat with a cartoony vocal sample and a vaguely Spanish vocal melody. As a tribute to going down south, the album reveals itself at this point to be a reversion to her “Dirrty” persona, seemingly the second coming of the Xtina of old. Meanwhile Nicki Minaj gives us a verse that sounds like she’s having the deed done to her in the booth, which works much better than it sounds, and actually manages to give the track the kick of charisma it needs. Of course, this song is nothing groundbreaking, but as a whole this is probably one of the few truly unique pop song concepts on the album.
The track after this, “Elastic Love” highlights one of the main problems with quite a few of the songs on the album. This song’s unconventional sound seems to come from the influence of the combination of Switch on the beat and its writer M.I.A., and while the production is sonically fluid with the previous few songs, it seems slightly out of place. As becomes evident with a few songs later on the album, Christina does not do well to sing tracks that are written by established artists that we have heard before. This is due to the fact that, rather than making the song her own, she seems to transform herself into a carbon copy of that singer. In this case, it is basically impossible to tell if M.I.A. is featured on the song or not, because it sounds much more like one of her tracks has somehow slipped onto Christina’s album. Aside from this, this is a catchy song with an indie sound and an interesting concept, but it may have done M.I.A. better to keep it for herself.
The next track “Desnudate” revisits the mainstream electro sound with some hoover-esque synths and a distinct Spanish feel, particularly in the brass and guitars interspersed throughout. As much as this should really not be applicable to someone of Christina’s level of talent, adding Spanish lyrics to something we’d swear we’d already heard from Britney Spears one or two years ago does not really count as an original song concept. “Glam” follows on as what sounds like a 2010 reinterpretation of Madonna’s “Vogue” with a whispery flow that Christina employs over a reasonably stripped down beat for a song about clothes horses. It also marks the first real appearance of her signature vocal acrobatics, which is a very welcome addition at this point. A voice-manipulated Lil’ Jon in the background of “Prima Donna” brings some extra energy to the zippy synths and Southern bounce of the production, and her shouts on the bridge almost sound like she’s telling us she’s a “Pre-Madonna”, someone who she just seemed to pay homage to, and is also notable for a style change on every album.
The album slows down considerably at this point with the “Morning Dessert Interlude”, taking a turn for the sexy, and sounding like something that Robin Thicke would come up with. This connects with the equally leisurely “Sex For Breakfast”, a track that that Christina really shines on – she’s always excelled at the slow jams because she can not only show off her relatively unrivalled vocal talents, but simultaneously retain the sexy persona that she wants to purvey. “Lift Me Up” sees Christina team up with perennial songwriter Linda Perry, who gave her one of her biggest and most iconic hits in “Beautiful”. The magic flows through this once again, and probably makes this the most honest and raw-sounding song on the entire album, free of electro sound band-wagoning and see-through “sexy bitch” posturing, with her vocals at their best here and finally at the forefront.
Three songs follow on all written by Australia’s own Sia Furler. Her soulful pop influences seem to drop away here as she contributes essentially three ballads. The problem with these tracks has nothing to do with Sia however, as they are some of the most creative and beautiful displays in terms of song writing and melody on the album. The issue, as was with “Elastic Love”, is that they sound like the writer should be singing them instead. With the vapidity displayed in the first half of the album, the double-entendre of “All I Need”, with lyrics that can be interpreted as both describing a lover and a gestating child, seem far above the standard that Christina could produce on her own. Because of this, they come off as insincere. The song “I Am” seems unfortunately ironic, as this listing of strengths and weaknesses of a woman sounds like it should really be titled “Sia Is”. It’s only on the last Sia-penned track “You Lost Me” that Aguilera seems to legitimately connect with the song and make it her own, especially vocally, something she fails to do on the rest of the album. It would seem like the perfect way to end everything, especially having reached the stage of being quite a long album with 15 tracks already. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
The amazing, tingling vibe inspired by the previous song is completely destroyed by the insipid “I Hate Boys” that follows it, where Christina explains that men are only good for their ‘bananas’. It comes off as childish and is a definite misstep in sequencing, which makes the last few tracks seem completely disingenuous. “My Girls” is not much better, aside from a fun appearance from an uncharacteristically tame version of Canadian electronic artist Peaches. The album finishes with the song “Vanity”, celebrating arrogance in all its forms, which is perfectly fine if you do it in a creative way. Of course, this is out of the question at this point.
The 411: The radio singles on Bionic are energetic and party-starting, and the introspective tracks are well-written and evocative. Fortunately, there are many more of these than there are hollow, uninspired pieces of pop-garbage, but it still feels like she is simply “checking in” with music rather than trying to make an inspiring statement, other than “I’m still here bitches”. The sequencing is an issue, as to place three lackluster songs to finish up with over ending the album with “You Lost Me” is basically criminal. To add to this, her inability to connect with songs written for her by established artists really holds back what could very well be some of the best songs on the album. However, when she really hits the mark, she completely nails it, giving us a glimmer of the talent that we all know she has. This is exactly what made her distinctive from all the other cookie-cutter pop princesses, but unfortunately, we don’t see this as much on this album as we’d like to.