Christina Aguilera has been a polemic figure since her breakthrough hit "Genie in a Bottle". She has a sexual aesthetic similar to a young Madonna’s, fashion sense like Cher’s, and raw vocal power comparable to a younger Whitney Houston’s. Her albums contain raunchy sexed-up tracks that appeal to sexually blossoming young adults and stately ballads that appeal to their post-menopausal mothers. Power pop, pop rock, R&B, hip-hop, dance, and even a little alt-rock have been found in some form on her albums. It’s a curse and a blessing for Christina that she can sound like anyone and sing almost anything. She’s always been difficult to categorize. Her ability to be so many things has caused critics to chastise her for not having her own unique presence.
The campaign for the collaboration-heavy Bionic began in the blogosphere with the declaration “Aguilera goes indie.” Ladytron, Le Tigre, Goldfrapp, M.I.A., Santigold, John Hill, and Sia all stepped up to the plate when an apprehensive Aguilera (convinced by her husband) reached out to them. The end result is an album that finds Christina caught between two worlds. Before, she seemed to be making the choice between being a serious singer or a pop star. Now, Christina Aguilera must chose between either being an “indie” darling or being the radio star. In the end, she is seemingly much more interesting doing “indie” impersonations than she is making radio ready pop.
The mainstream songs dominate the eighteen-track standard edition of the album and are, unfortunately, the weakest offerings from the Bionic sessions. Tricky Stewart never really replicates his production magic on his hits like “Umbrella” or “Single Ladies.” The Spanglish “Desnudate” sounds as if J.Lo, Pitbull, and Gloria Estefan went on an all night coke binge and decided to log some studio time in the process. The clunky Spanish translations, which seem to have been lifted directly from an online search engine, cause the track to sink even further. "Glam," touted as a modern "Vogue," is a cute but innocuous gay-friendly track that brings to mind Paris is Burning and Sex and the City. “Prima Donna” is slinky, urban, club fodder salvaged only by a confident hood delivery from Xtina, whose singing eerily sounds more and more like Michael Jackson by the bridge of the track.
Polow Da don’s tracks don’t fare much better. “Woo Hoo” (feat. Nicki Minaj), an ode to Christina’s lady parts, is fun, but the production is too sparse and predictable. “I Hate Boys” is a bratty, juvenile kiss-off that is the biggest stylistic misstep for Christina. It’s whooshing, grating production and taunting melody make it seem as if she’s trying to bite at the heels of Katy Perry and Ke$ha. But, this is a Christina Aguilera album, and with a deluxe version boasting twenty-four tracks in total there is still much more here to be examined.
A feel good collaboration with Le Tigre, “My Girls” is delightfully similar in its levity and playfulness. It combines Le Tigre’s penchant for female assertiveness and Christina’s stiletto wearing, ruby-lipped brand of third wave feminism. The product is a funky, lo-fi, disco-y, '90s, Girl Power pop with a Peaches feature and an adorable riot grrrrl shout-out to her collaborators.
With many of these collaborations Aguilera has been criticized for lacking a true identity and “ripping off” these artists, which I think is somewhat unfair. Can you call it “ripping off” if there is a consensual collaboration involved? In my opinion Xtina has been unable to maintain a clear musical identity out of sheer boredom and dynamic virtuosity. Yes, her voice is the only distinguishing feature that ties her albums together, but in her defense, why do one thing when you can do everything?
One burning question remains. How does one listen to such an album with such extreme stylistic differences from song to song? I’d say treat it like a mix-tape. With this number of tracks, various styles, and collaborators it’s safe to say that Christina Aguilera has made an album for the digital age. There are multiple ten-fifteen track albums that can be created from this lot for everyone to enjoy.
This is an excerpt from a much longer, more detailed review that can be found at Electroqueer