June 15, 2018 Christina Aguilera – Liberation (Album Review)
She is crazy, sexy and cool, and on June 15, 2018, Christina Aguilera makes her proud return to eardrums worldwide with Liberation, her first studio offering in six years, thanks to RCA Records.
Multi-Platinum superstar Christina Aguilera is kind of a big deal! A former member of The Mickey Mouse Club, Aguilera has parlayed her youthful success into international stardom with seven studio albums – including the 4x-platinum, Grammy-winning Stripped and 3x-platinum, Grammy-winning Back to Basics – which has made the sassy blonde a household name. Long before she was a judge on NBC’s hugely-popular The Voice, Aguilera was acting in movies and television – which includes her recent cameo in the Melissa McCarthy flick Life of the Party – and carving an impressive resume for herself.
Five billion combined worldwide streams, 36 million album equivalents sold, 30 Billboard Hot 100 hits (including five No. 1’s), and six Grammy Awards later, Aguilera is feeling rightfully liberated as an artist. Thus, the aptly-titled, 16-track Liberation, her first studio album since 2012’s Lotus, and eighth studio offering, sees Aguilera flexing her net far and wide to work with an impressively eclectic group of heavy-hitting collaborators. In fact, noteworthy contributors to Liberation include the likes of songwriters Julia Michaels, Ilsey Juber, Tayla Parx, Justin Tranter, and Teddy Geiger; producers Kanye West, Che Pope, Mike Will Made-It, Anderson.Paak, Jon Bellion, Da Internz, MNEK, Kirby Lauryen, and Ricky Reed; as well as the Oscar-nominated Composer Nick Britell (Moonlight, The Big Short).
Liberation kicks off with the just under two-minute-long track of the same name, gently climbing strings and piano along with atmospherics that weave around Aguilera’s whispers and a child’s laughter. The tension grows before twenty-five seconds of spine-tingling “Searching for Maria,” yes, the Rodgers & Hammerstein track off The Sound of Music. So, how do you solve a problem like Maria? The album’s first proper track, Track 3, is the Kanye West and Che Pope-produced “Maria,” where Hip Hop beats and studio effects (including a sample of The Jackson Five’s song of the same title) anchor themselves at the feet of Aguilera’s powerhouse vocals, telling a generalized tale of the aforementioned Maria von Trapp. It’s a powerful, emotional sound that is certainly attention-grabbing, if a little dense.
Somewhat surprisingly, “Sick of Sittin’” sees Aguilera doing her best Janis Joplin, a rallying call to push forward, say no to clichés, and move mountains, entrenched in swampy, groovy Blues Rock sonics. Then, children of varying ages voice their precious dreams on the short interlude “Dreamers,” which ultimately introduces “Fall in Line.” Here, the #MeToo Movement and female empowerment receive an anthem with this soulful ballad that features Demi Lovato. Performing as a powerhouse duet, the ladies urge women to speak their minds, show their strength, and embrace their bodies without shame. “You are not beholden, you do not owe them your body and your soul,” they promise. It’s a wonderful sentiment, an important thought to share, but the song itself does not hit as hard as it was likely intended to but rather feels somewhat scripted.
Going for sensual, the deep grooving, Reggae-dusted “Right Moves” features Keida and Shenseea, while “Like I Do” begins with a fluid rap from GoldLink accompanied by a punctuated (electronic?) flute. Ultimately, Aguilera arrives to weave a duet that is a game of cat-and-mouse that lyrically references some of her earliest hits, as well as name-checking Marvin Gaye. Next, the atmospheric electronics of ballad “Deserve,” produced by MNEK, create a backbone for Aguilera’s saucy yet humble, emotional confessions that, perhaps, she doesn’t always believe that she deserves the great love in her life.
Being able to recover from love and loss, not thinking twice about taking chances again is the heart of the aptly-titled “Twice,” a beautifully soulful piano ballad that highlights Aguilera’s gorgeously organic vocal talents. The short “I Don’t Need It Anymore” clocks in at just under one minute and is a powerful vocal interlude that reclaims the singer’s power before breathing in and releasing itself into “Accelerate.” Featuring Ty Dolla $ign and 2 Chainz, this is an exercise in Hip Hop that bleeds together to create something that sounds kind of like synth-guided noise with Aguilera musing over the top of the din.
Aguilera continues to dip into R&B with the steady beat and jazzy sway of “Pipe (featuring XNDA),” fast-moving, fluid vocal grooves that weave a languidly sensual pace. Meanwhile, nothing kinky here, ballad “Masochist” is a sensual ode to the pitfalls of love that are oft so bad yet feel so good. The collection ends with the soulful, tender piano ballad “Unless It’s With You,” which sees a tender-hearted Aguilera looking to big futures with her beloved.
On Liberation, Aguilera branches herself far and wide, and ultimately a bit thin. From tracks mired in Hip Hop and unnecessary studio effects (“Accelerate”) to soulful, stripped down ballads (“Twice”), Aguilera grasps at depth and breadth, but often merely detracts from her sterling vocal performances with superfluous additives that dampen the spirit of her talents. The end result is a collection that is good, sure, but it could have been better had Aguilera focused on her lyrical content rather than bringing in a veritable slew of featured artists.
While other divas have failed to maintain their voice throughout the years (lookin’ at you, Mariah Carey), Aguilera has managed to keep her golden instrument in perfect form, so why not highlight that fact here? Instead, Liberation is a journey fraught with highs and lows, one whose schizophrenic stylings might appeal to Millennial’s ADHD, sure, but overall, it just feels like a bit of a misfire. Nonetheless, the talent is palpable, and the lady deserves a tip of the hat for her willingness to embrace all styles at all times. Sitting on the fence, CrypticRock give Christina Aguilera’s Liberation 3.5 of 5 stars.