Album review: Christina Aguilera - Liberation

Album review: Christina Aguilera - Liberation | Random J Pop

When I think about Christina's albums, I see them as reflections of how the public, the music buyers and media have viewed her and criticised her. We have forced her to put out certain songs. Forced her to a point where she's had to be overly careful and conscious of what she puts out - in a bid to pull away from the peers that we've always compared her to. Peers of whom have gone on to have greater success than her. Christina has been forced to go left, go broad and overthink her albums. Sometimes doing too much and sometimes not doing enough. We are responsible for that. So it comes as no surprise that Christina Aguilera titled her 6th studio album after a 6 year hiatus Liberation. A declaration of breaking away from restrains and the opinions of others. But even so, she still seems overwrought and is still overthinking. Old habits die hard.

This album is very consciously Stripped part 2, which is timely. Stripped not only challenged how far a woman can push overt sexuality on her own terms, but challenged misogyny, double standards, empowerment and acceptance. It's an album that resonated back in 2002, but you can't help but think how much more relevant it is today. So it's only natural that Christina would revisit it somewhat now. Liberation doesn't quite pack the same punch or feel as bold as Stripped did, but it was never going to.

Liberation sees Christina deliver a much more condensed track list than we're used to from her, but the album still does what Christina's album always do: splinter off and give the impression that she wasn't entirely sure on where to land the sound as a whole. Christina has always had issues with the edit. Whilst she's finally nailed skimming the number of songs down, she's still not great with the selection. You can pretty much divide Liberation into 3 parts. Songs about loving yourself. Songs about sex and songs about loving somebody else. Whilst this works fine on paper, the end result sounds like 3 sets of album sessions melded together, and not in the best of ways.

The album opens with songs about finding oneself, self belief and strength; which is timely when women's rights, feminism and its many forms are being challenged daily. This has been a theme of Christina's since Stripped and has been woven into all of Christina's follows-ups, albeit in completely different forms and narratives. But the message here is as direct as it was on Stripped, and it comes to a head with the Demi Lovato featured "Fall in line". The message of the song is a powerful one, which is given weight by two stars whose childhood foundations were rocked by their fathers and whose careers have been wrought media scrutiny over their physical appearances and damaging narratives driven by men. I just wish there was more vocal harmonising between Christina and Demi, and not just them screaming at one another towards the end of the song. Christina's plea to find herself on "Maria" is a typical Kanye West production, but it doesn't feel as rich as it should have. It feels more Life of Pablo when it needed to feel more The late registration. Christina's vocals are hoarse and tense to capture the urgency in the lyrics, but I would have liked for her to have relaxed her vocals a little more to let the song breathe in ways that the music doesn't. The prelude "Searching for Maria" sounds beautiful and far more vulnerable in comparison. I get more out of it than I do the main song. "Maria" just feels rough to me and isn't the greatest start to the album, especially after what are essentially 2 intros. Petty Aguilera strikes back on "Sick of sittin'", which is a middle finger to The Voice, a show she's since spoken of her disdain for. The song has a nice Janis Joplin vibe about it, but it feels monotonous. Yet again, Christina's vocals get muddled in the mix. The song doesn't go anywhere because Christina kicks it off with her vocals already dialled to a 10 and just stays there. There is no sense of progression.

Sex has always been a theme of Christina's music since her debut with songs like "Genie in a bottle", "Come on over (All I want is you)" and "What a girls wants", which I've decided is a song about a guy who knows how to eat pussy right. "Right moves", "Like I do" and "Pipe" are all great songs which would make great singles. "Right moves" is top 20 chart take on reggae. "Like I do" is a Summer banger and "Pipe" feels like a fusion of Aaliyah's "Rock the boat", Missy Elliott's "P***ycat" and a Drake record. All three songs barely push Christina vocally, but she sounds great on them regardless because she's not giving us the typical belts and acrobatics that I feel that she and others think define her voice. I am always drawn to when Christina softens her vocals and flutters over her songs i.e "Loving me 4 me" and "Without you". Belting and reaching for notes is not the only measure of how good somebody's voice is. And I always find that Christina displays her range and dexterity better when she doesn't just belt across a song.

Christina isn't really known for her love songs, but she delivers them for every album and Liberation is no exception. The best of the bunch is easily the Julia Michaels penned and MNEK produced "Deserve". A song about sabotaging a relationship because you don't think that you deserve it. The vibe of the song is unlike anything else on the album, but in the best possible way. It sounds like it could have slotted right into Bionic or Lotus with its skirt with a Eurocentric sound. This would make a great single and would cross Christina over in a big way.

Album review: Christina Aguilera - Liberation | Random J Pop

Here's my problem with this album. The songs where I feel Christina has the most to say get lost in the production and choices made on the song. The songs where Christina is coasting, riding with the songs and not overthinking or trying too hard, are the moments where the album shines the brightest.

Christina's fans will claim that she reinvented the wheel and came fresh with this album, but she really hasn't. It's what we all should have expected at this point given Christina's track record of how she approaches albums. The sound on this album isn't bold or new. It's just better than what she gave us on Lotus.

This album is literally stripped in 2016 and I have no issue with that. My issue, is that I still feel Christina can give us more and give us better. Since Stripped, every album has been a case of 'I like this, but...', and I feel the same way about Liberation. It's too much of a retread. It's nice hearing Christina swing back to R&B, but this album is safe and pretty pedestrian for somebody like Christina. Opinions were mixed on the lead single "Accelerate", but its easily one of the most interesting sounding songs on the album and an instance where I feel a genuine risk was taken, both in terms of its production and selecting it as the lead single. Everything else on Liberation is far too safe for an artist who has made a career of being anything but.

This album has some good moments. The album opener feels a little overlong and it's strange to me that we essentially get an intro and an interlude as the first 2 tracks back to back before we get the first full length track. Making "Searching for Maria" and "Maria" one track would have been a better choice. Or removing "Liberation" completely and having the album open with "Searching for Maria" and calling the album Maria could have been another option. Although I'm sure Gaga fans would have dragged Christina for copying Joanne, as though she's the only artist to name her album after her middle name. Ya'll better pay Damita Jo its dues.

Christina exudes confidence in her approach to this album, but there's also a sense of uncertainty that she had in the direction of it. Christina needs to do a better job of tying her albums together so that they feel like one album and not an album full of multiple albums' worth of ideas. Stripped was overlong and overblown, but it had a good hit ratio for a 20 track album. Every album since has been extensive for the sake of being extensive and has wrestled a bunch of sounds, vibes, themes, and come off worse for wear as a result. Back to basics may be the only exception. But even with that said, did that shit really need to be 2 discs? Christina's decision to split the album across 2 discs felt like a solution to her recording what were essentially 2 different albums. Where-as with some work, Back to basics easily could have been one tight, cohesive disc.

Liberation will please Christina Aguilera's die hard fans, as it's a better album than Lotus and is as close to a direct sequel to Stripped as they're ever going to get. But I can't help but feel underwhelmed, because I know that Christina can give us so much better. Seeing where Christina goes from here will be interesting and hopefully she won't make us wait so long for a follow up.

RATING: 5 / 10

■ Like I do
■ Deserve
■ Accelerate
■ Pipe
■ Unless it's with you