I was fully expecting “Bionic”, the fourth English-language studio album from Christina Aguilera, to be a disaster. I wasn’t sure how her bombastic vocals and pop sensibility would blend with an intriguing list of collaborators. My suspicions seemed to be confirmed once I heard the fairly generic first single “Not Myself Tonight” and follow-up “Woohoo”, which features the unbelievably annoying Nicki Minaj. There was no way in hell “Bionic” was not gonna be a hot mess.
Well, “Bionic” is kind of a hot mess, just like Christina’s previous two albums, “Back to Basics” and “Stripped”. With a deluxe version that runs for 23 tracks, there’s certainly a lot to take in. It’s an incredibly egotistical, stylistically unfocused, sometimes topically tasteless and unnecessarily lengthy album. But, again like those two previous albums, despite the fact that everything about it sounds wrong in theory, it ends up not being anywhere near as bad as it should be, and actually winds up being more listenable than not.
Christina’s albums have always been a little musically schizophrenic, and “Bionic” is no exception. Dance-pop anthems that match anything you could currently hear on Top 40 radio rub up against sultry ballads, dramatic anthems tailor-made for Grammy consideration, bizarre uptempo experiments and ethereal slow jams that reveal a previously untapped subtlety in her vocalising.
The fact that “Bionic” still (kinda) holds together is a testament to Christina’s good (or at least eclectic) taste in collaborators, a list that stretches from current it-beatmakers Polow da Don and Tricky Stewart to mainstay Linda Perry (whose ballad “Lift Me Up” is the closest thing to a potential hit on this album-watch it get rush-released stat) on to M.I.A. and Santigold (who wrote the two most bizarre tracks on the album-“Elastic Love” and “Bobblehead”) and Australian singer-songwriter Sia Furler, who co-composed the insinuating ballad “I Am” and a couple of the album’s other downtempo tracks.
My favorite tracks on the album are the hazy “Birds of Prey” and the slow jam “Sex for Breakfast”. The latter track suggests a grown-folks R&B direction for Christina, still probably the genre that makes the best use of her considerable vocal gifts. Given the opportunity, she could sing rings around someone like Beyonce. The fact that she’s not in that lane speaks well to her desire to be artistic-an admirable though not always intelligent line of thinking.
The goodwill generated by the album’s peaks almost make up for the fact that “Bionic” is bloated in typical Aguilera fashion. Considering the length of her last two albums, it becomes quite obvious that Xtina needs an “edit” button. 4 or 5 tracks could have been pulled from “Bionic” easily, making it a much easier album to digest. She could’ve easily gutted filler like the egotistical lovefests that are “Glam” and “Vanity”-songs that have no value outside of a crowded club, “Project Runway” or “RuPaul’s Drag Race”. It’s also probably time to tone down the often overtly (and often tasteless) sexual content that dots the album and cut Peaches (who delivers a watered-down cameo on “My Girls”) loose as a collaborator, an odd choice given that she made a much more raunchy (and natural sounding) appearance on an album by Xtina’s rival and sworn enemy, P!nk.
Looking at Christina’s contemporaries, she’s obviously chosen the more risky road. She’s wisely (and thankfully) not gone the vapid route of Britney and Beyonce, and she fancies herself too much of an artiste to go the mature Alicia Keys route. The fact that an album as all-over-the-place as “Bionic” is even listenable (let alone quite good in spots) is a testament to the woman’s talent. However, a little less ego and a shorter running time would have turned the “Dirrty” girl’s latest effort from a merely good album into a great one.
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