June 7, 2010
Album review: Christina Aguilera - 'Bionic' (RCA)
Usurped by Gaga, Xtina hits back with a host of lavish help, shonky tricks and limited thrills
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5 / 10
What a difference a woman wearing a dress made solely of police tape makes. When the awesome cast list for Mousketeer-cum-dirrrty-girl Christina Aguilera’s fourth record leaked a good two years ago it had the whiff of revolution. With ‘Dirrrty’ and ‘Beautiful’, Aguilera proved herself smarter than the average popstrel. Adding MIA and Ladytron into the mix sounded like the sort of party we wanted to go to. Then along came Gaga and the future-pop thunder was stolen.
Maybe that’s why ‘Bionic’ arrives so long delayed. And maybe that’s why it feels as if Christina lost the courage of her convictions and, unsure of which album to make, went and made them all. There’s 23 tracks here, 18 on the main record, with the rest (the largely more interesting stuff) relegated to a deluxe edition. In a strange way, this is perfect for the digital age – there are at least three albums to compile, letting you build your own Christina. The first, from which so-so single ‘Not Myself Tonight’ is taken, is largely drab. Daring as some of the tracks are, they overwhelmingly loop her vocal around a generic house lick that has the effect of giving her very little to do vocally.
Neither is the endless sexytalk convincing anymore. Where Madonna and Gaga use sex as a weapon, they also employ a humour that’s lacking on songs such as ‘Woowoo’ and ‘Des Nudites’. Bionic? It’s as if the mighty Xtina has been reanimated as a slightly confused cyborg with levers and LEDs where the leather chaps used to be.
The second record, for the mums, features the obligatory Linda Perry ballad (the serviceable ‘Lift Me Up’) and some surprisingly classy jazz-infused stuff she’s made with soul pop singer Sia (each of these three versions of the album, by the way, should feature the smutty slow-jam ‘Sex For Breakfast’ simply because it’s so unintentionally hilarious).
Finally, for our purposes, there’s the exciting record. Most of these collaborations sound exactly as they appear on paper, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The grinding and growling ‘Elastic Love’ is vintage MIA (except sung by Aguilera). You’ll be a bit taken aback here until you discover that the word ‘spastic’ isn’t actually offensive in the US. ‘My Girls’ is euphoric girls-together punk funk from Le Tigre (except sung by Aguilera and with a rap from Peaches) and, if hardly riot grrrl subversive, is great fun. ‘Birds Of Prey’ is classic mournful electro from Ladytron (except… do you see a pattern emerging, children?) Perhaps best of all is ‘Monday Morning’[. Written with Santigold and The Bravery’s Sam Endicott, it’s a Day-Glo disco jam that sounds like Gwen Stefani doing ‘Borderline’. Get on the internet and build your own pop mercenary using those songs. It’ll cost you but a fiver and you can still cling to the idea of Aguilera as a revolutionary. Because it’s quite a nice illusion to maintain.
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