Christina Aguilera's new album 'Bionic' is a mish-mash of Gaga and blah
"Bionic" is Christina Aguilera's first album since the birth of her son and the rise of Lady Gaga, events it seems to regard as equally significant. For Aguilera, the mere existence of Gaga must be infuriating: Gaga the interloper, who has cribbed from Aguilera for years, despite the public perception that it's the other way around; Gaga the space cadet, who appears to have dropped in from Mars but still seems more earthy than the cool, crisp Aguilera, who sings about sex like she was reading from the manual that came with her refrigerator.
On "Bionic," Aguilera tries to do it all: to revel in her newfound domesticity, to wrest her crown from Gaga and to reestablish her sex kitten bona fides. It's a tall order, and "Bionic" -- noisy, robotic and overstuffed -- goes about filling it in exactly the wrong way. It buries Aguilera's copious charms -- that voice, those flashes of playfulness, intelligence and grit -- under pedestrian electro-pop beats that could belong to anyone, and occasionally do.
"Bionic" is larded with guest stars -- Le Tigre, M.I.A., Sia -- whose combined weight suffocates. The more they labor, the less distinctive Aguilera sounds. The first half of "Bionic," the would-be edgy-electro half, possesses some great moments. There's the blazing "Not Myself Tonight," which sounds better when divorced from its infamous video. And "Elastic Love," a nifty bit of neo-futurist '80s pop co-penned by M.I.A., and "Glam," which, though it suggests "Vogue" if Gaga did it, is really the only overtly Gaga-esque track.
There are also some not-so-great moments, like the strained Nicki Minaj collaboration "Woohoo"; "Sex for Breakfast," a joyless to-do list of a song; and plenty of standard '09 dance-floor fare like "Prima Donna," which Aguilera sings if she didn't realize that anonymous, Tricky Stewart-made pop tracks are the reason God invented Ciara.
One of the disc's greatest disappointments, at least in its first half, is its virtual abandonment of Aguilera's voice. Gone is the melismatic trilling imitated by countless amateur national anthem murderers and "American Idol" contestants, replaced by undersinging (undersinging!) and overuse of the already tired robo-voice.
The disc's limpid second half mixes a handful of slow songs (like the obligatory but still goose-bump-raising inspirational ballad "Lift Me Up") with tame, hand-clappy, Gwen Stefani-inspired pop ("I Hate Boys," "My Girls," upon which a guesting Peaches can inflict little damage). None of these seems to be direct expressions of Aguilera's personality, but who knows? Artists should be moving targets, but the real Aguilera remains unnecessarily elusive. She may not know either.
The astringent album closer "Vanity" positions her as a harmless, mirror-kissing vamp. "Every day I see myself/I love me even more," explains Aguilera, who is kidding, but not really. Like many tracks on "Bionic," "Vanity" is an ode to the greatness of Aguilera cloaked in a paean to female empowerment (We're all great, seems to be her line of thinking. I'm just a little bit more great).
"Who owns the throne?" Aguilera asks as the song lurches to a close.
"You do, Mommy," coos a small child, presumably her son Max. He's very, very lucky he didn't say Lady Gaga instead.
"Lift Me Up," "Elastic Love"
Allison Stewart is a freelance writer.