Monday, August 19

Soundbite: Christina Aguilera

The truth is, Christina Aguilera has always been misguided as both a singer and an artist. Given the right producer to tame her unquestionably talented but oft restless vocals, she can sell anything as cheesy as “Beautiful.” But when her voice is allowed to run free in live performances, the vocal gymnastics are overdone to the point of being unlistenable.

However, where Christina more often goes wrong is in her audaciousness as an artist. Since her self-proclaimed departure from teen pop icon, she has presented each of her albums with an overeager sense of ambition, packing on layers of production and mistaking quantity and variety for cohesion. “Bionic” follows in the same footsteps of its predecessors ““ with 15 songs, three interludes, eight producers and hardly a memorable moment.

In typical Christina fashion, “Bionic” starts off with a self-titled introduction, verbally explaining what you’re supposedly about to listen to. “Bionic” is all about moving from the Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole nods in 2006′s “Back to Basics” and looking into the future. But rather than moving from 1950 to say, 3050, the album stops short of 2001 and never really moves forward.

There’s already a notable absence of rumored collaborations with The Knife, Goldfrapp and Le Tigre, all of which could have been the smartest decisions of Christina’s musical career. So for all the hype that surrounded her working with Ladytron and Sia, it’s puzzling that their work isn’t the album’s front and center. Instead, the main attractions are Polow da Don and Christopher “Tricky” Stewart’s dated hooks that rely on the aforementioned vocal gymnastics and Christina’s tired titillation to interject any spark into them. She utters nonsense about tasting her “woohoo,” being a prima donna, and “kissing all the boys and the girls.” It’s all sexual rebellion at its phoniest and reeks of desperation.

Apart from the M.I.A.-penned “Elastic Love,” (which lies somewhere between the rapper-slash-singer’s recent singles “Born Free” and “XXXO”), the entire first half of the album is a tuneless mess that can’t even qualify as guilty pleasure.

Things do start to pick up once they slow down in the second half. Christina’s sensual self-harmonizing in “Morning Dessert (Intro)” is probably the best, if not the sexiest, listen on “Bionic,” so it’s a bit of a letdown that it leads into the half-as-pleasing “Sex For Breakfast.”

And while Linda Perry and Sia’s ballads are not particularly interesting, they play to Christina’s vocal strengths and are often more enjoyable than not. “Beautiful” songwriter Linda Perry by now knows the ins and outs of her protegee’s voice, and it didn’t take Sia long to realize that Christina’s strengths lie in her subtlety, not her runs.

But before the diet trip-hop listening party ever has a chance to reach its climax, the album ends awkwardly on three stale dance numbers, strictly for the ladies. They’re all in good fun, but lyrics like “I hate boys, but boys love me, I think they suck, and my friends agree” don’t dance anywhere close to “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”

What’s most puzzling about “Bionic” is that Christina Aguilera has the talent, ambition, and production team to create a brilliant album­ ““ she just can’t figure out what to do with it all. With the negative blogosphere attention and not-completely-justified Lady Gaga comparisons that “Bionic” has received, it’s a shame that the album is everything the haters want it to be. This is the work of an overly confident singer who still doesn’t know herself as an artist.

E-mail Wolf at [email protected]

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