Though she probably retains pop superstar status, Christina Aguilera’s only significant hits during the last decade have been collaborations and features: ‘Moves Like Jagger’ with Maroon 5, ‘Say Something’ with A Great Big World, ‘Feel This Moment’ with Pitbull. From 2011 to 2016, she was stuck “coaching” on the US version of The Voice, which seems to explain why this album is named ‘Liberation’. “Don’t try to tell me I’m crazy, it’s good pay, but it’s slavery,” she sings pretty questionably on a pointedly-titled track called ‘Sick Of Sittin”.
So, her first album in five-and-a-half years is designed to remind us that Aguilera is a singer and music-lover, not just an MOR TV personality. Instead of hopping nonchalantly between genres, as she did on 2002’s dazzling ‘Stripped’ (still her best album), she’s leaned into hip-hop and R&B and made a record that’s cohesive and surprisingly low-key, even when she allows herself to indulge in some vocal showboating. ‘Fall In Line’, her well-intentioned feminist duet with Demi Lovato, is just as gloriously unsubtle as you’d expect.
Aguilera’s knack for picking collaborators has always been underrated (she worked with Sia before other pop stars cottoned on) and here she’s recruited producers including Kanye West and Anderson .Paak to keep her beats tight. West contributes to lead single ‘Accelerate’, an infectiously off-kilter hip-hop track, and the melodramatic, Michael Jackson-sampling ‘Maria’. .Paak’s funk workout ‘Sick Of Sittin” crackles with palpable frustration, even if Aguilera is singing about her well-paid job on The Voice. Meanwhile, rising stars Julia Michaels and MNEK team up to co-write ‘Deserve’, a tender R&B bop that’s a definite highlight.
A decade-and-a-half after ‘Dirrty’, Aguilera still has a distinctive way of singing about sex. Reggae-flecked sex jam ‘Right Moves’ features the come-ons “On a glass table, love me somethin’ unstable” and “On a wood staircase, love me ’til I can’t think straight,” which makes you wonder if she’s getting ideas while flicking through a copy of Homes & Gardens. But at least she thinks about logistics when scheduling a hook-up. “I just sent a driver, he’s on his way,” she sings on ‘Pipe’, “Shouldn’t be no traffic this time on Saturday.”
Still, a few rum lyrics are part of the fun with Aguilera. ‘Liberation’ may lack the grand ambition and massive pop bangers of her glory days, but by the end, it’s hard to deny that she feels reasonably relevant and contemporary again.