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Christina Aguilera’s Liberation: a track-by-track review

Posted in Albums, Christina Aguilera with tags , , , , , , on June 15, 2018 by Ain't No Other Tan

She’s baaaaack! Christina Aguilera last released an album in 2012 and after years of one-off songs and collaborations here and there and teasing a new record coming on the horizon, she’s finally returned to the pop scene with highly anticipated Liberation.

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Like a true Fighter and soldier (or The Terminator), Christina is back to show that despite all her hardships, she’s back again, like it or not.

There are 11 full songs on the album, plus 5 intro and interludes, so here’s my track-by-track review of the record that us Fighters have been waiting so long for:

  1. Liberation: A beautiful piano-led piece featuring snippets of Christina talking and a little girl laughing in the background that sets up the album’s concept of looking within to find and remember your true self.
  2. Searching For Maria: Teaser reviews told us this introduction into the next track “Maria” would have Christina singing from The Sound of Music, and she does but what we weren’t prepared for is a short but sweet angelic vocal cut of How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? where she barely sounds like her usual self, which left me shook.
  3. Maria: Featuring a sample from the Jackson 5 song of the same name (unsurprisingly), “Maria” is described by Xtina as her favourite and most personal track on the album. Its bittersweet lyrics and message allude to Christina stripping back (pun intended) to the woman many of us fell in love with back in 2002 that she herself has felt like she’s lost over the years. I also like the gospel-like vibe the song has.
  4. Sick of Sittin’: Throwing shade but not shade (due to it being generally relatable to a lot of situations) at The Voice, this track is probably the most uptempo song on the album and stands out with its rocky soul style recorded as if it was a live performance, in contrast to the more pop-urban sound the rest of the album has. This song features a lot of Christina’s Etta James-esque growls, grunts and rasps she’s become pretty synonymous with.
  5. Dreamers: An inspiring interlude of little girls announcing what they want to be when they grow up – pretty much anything except “nobody’s princess”.
  6. Fall in Line: Teaming up with fellow big belter Demi Lovato, Christina is at her most vocally unrestrained on this track. While most might have feared that these two together would end up being a shouty mess, they do actually blend well. Lyrically, the song itself is a typical Christina feminist anthem but musically the song – which I guess a lot of people were expecting a lot more of a upbeat pop sound – stomps along like a march or protest, which is quite fitting.
  7. Right Moves (ft. Keida and Shenseea): Christina has previously dabbled in reggae (“What A Girl Wants” live) and dancehall (“Woohoo”) genres, but this is very much a more genuine take on that sound. “Right Moves” is a sexy groove of a song that is sure to get some hips winding and she surprisingly keeps her voice soft and light throughout instead of “blacking up” her sound that she’s done previously.
  8. Like I Do (ft. GoldLink): A chilled out R&B track with a danceable beat to it, there’s some real laidback summery vibe to it. The flute-like loop played throughout is catchy as are the lyrics “we can get along, we can Marvin Gaye and get it on” as Christina both cockily challenges the male whilst flirting with him at the same time.
  9. Deserve: Not your typical Christina love ballad. The instrumental and melody are very dreamlike as she coos about the ups and downs of a relationship but ultimately still professes her love in spite of it all. Her vocals are versatile here, sometimes soft and light (verse), other times a bit meatier (hook), sometimes she rap-sings (bridge) and other times she full on belts out phrases (chorus). You can also hear what appears to be a male vocalist very faintly singing along with her in the background, but not quite sure if that bit is necessary.
  10. Twice: Sung in a very un-Christina type fashion in that it mostly executed straight with no runs and belts, except towards the end, “Twice” was the first snippet of a ballad we heard from this album that got most people who weren’t feeling “Accelerate”, immediately loving this. The harmonies at the beginning of the song remind me of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, while the rest of the song in terms of instrumentation and vocals is on par with “You Lost Me”.
  11. I Don’t Need It Anymore: Unfortunately, this track is just an interlude, where Christina starts off harmonising again (possibly with herself) to create a gospel-like intro before the rest is just one voice a cappella. In this she sings about her “eyes wide open” and being “alive again”. Such a shame it stops quite short and isn’t a full song but it’s always chilling to hear Christina without any background music as she lays her voice and soul bare.
  12. Accelerate (ft. Ty Dolla $ign and 2 Chainz): You can read my full thoughts on this song here.
  13. Pipe: A real R&B slow-jam, “Pipe” is slinky and seductive, with Christina carrying on the rap-singing style she’s employed a lot on this album. The song is reminiscent of “Sex For Breakfast” from Bionic in its cheeky and double-entendre-filled lyricism. Plus, little-known XNDA is probably the least annoying rapper she has featured on this album.
  14. Masochist: Another bittersweet love ballad, Christina talks about the pain a relationship can bring but is unable to walk away from – maybe a little nod to the brilliant toxic love song “Walk Away” from Stripped?
  15. Unless It’s With You: Back To Basics ended with the track “Right Man”, a direct song to her then-husband Jordan Bratman about being glad she found and married him. Of course, that marriage unfortunately failed but now this is like The Right Man 2.0, in a nod to her new man Matt Rutler. The cynic in me is unsure of whether to dig the lyrics of this song – especially considering half of the tracks on Back To Basics spoke of her new marriage and love back then – although the beginning is certainly relatable. However, her vocals on this rise beautifully from a light and airy tone with conviction of independence to her signature strong and belty voice full of confidence (in love) for an emotional crescendo at the bridge before bringing it all back down to earth for the final notes of the song and album.
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Christina Stripped back all the outrageous outfits and heavy makeup for the visual concept of Liberation.

For those who are fans of Stripped for its honesty and soul-baring songs and quality as well as the no-nonense yet vulnerable and also sexual, confident Christina, Liberation is certainly a treat for you and you’ll feel both comforted as well as pleasantly surprised. But if you miss the outrageous diva, the Xtina who just wanted to have “fun” and play about as she did with Bionic, then you’ll be taken aback and disappointed because she’s not back to play. The album is a very mature sound, mostly sticking to a relaxed soul/R&B/urban/hip-hop vibe that harks back to 90’s and early 00’s R&B.

Her voice is probably at its most versatile on this album that we’ve heard in a while as she showcases more of the different textures and areas of her voice she has often only done little of in previous albums: she rarely goes overboard with her belts and runs – and when she is going all out it complements the song and style rather than sounds like showing off, there’s no hint of auto-tune, and her naturally pretty, light and soft vocals are featured more than ever. So if you’re also someone who detested Bionic for her experimental use of her voice on that album and prefer all-out powerhouse Xtina, you may also find yourself disconnected from this one too because that Xtina was put on the back burner for Liberation. It does however, like Bionic, feature a lot of sexual confidence that we have all come to expect from an Xtina record.

The only two negatives I would have to pick out for this album would be the fact that it’s very short. With only 11 proper full songs and 15 overall, it only runs for 45 minutes. This makes me wonder just how many tracks were left out to narrow it down to these songs? This also means collaborations we’d been told she’d done (Linda Perry, Pharrell Williams and P!nk, didn’t make the final cut). Secondly, there’s an unfortunate lack of uptempo songs present, so if anyone was expecting at least one club banger they could get down and “Dirrty” to, you’ll have to make do with any remixes that might be released.

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While a lot of people were hoping that the concept behind Lotus would mean Christina was going to deliver Stripped 2.0 with that album but were ultimately left with something that left little to be desired in comparison to Stripped, Liberation seems to be very much that Stripped 2.0 they’ve been longing for. Although it’s unlikely any of this album’s songs will ever be as iconic or memorable as the tracks on Stripped, there are definitely some real gems on Liberation that should be praised for their lyrics, ingenuity, versatility and of course, vocals. And certainly none that, unlike her previous albums, that could be described as “filler”.

Of course, with the general public, Christina and her new sound continue to be very marmite – some are lovers, some are haters, and some still aren’t sure going by the first few songs they have already heard before the rest of the album. My advice? Check it out if you’re really that curious. Thankfully, Christina herself seems less bothered about whether people will really dig this record or how well it charts, but it definitely deserves to do well.

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10 ways Christina Aguilera could have a successful comeback

Posted in Christina Aguilera, Female Vocalists with tags , , , , on April 21, 2017 by Ain't No Other Tan

It was about three years ago when we first got wind of a new Christina Aguilera album due to come out and it’s been about 2 years since I last posted a blog, so I thought it’d be fitting for my first post in a while to be about just that.

Poor Christina hasn’t had the best luck so far this decade when it comes to her music career. She’s made more money and more of a name for herself as a coach on The Voice and most recently, a spokesperson for Oreos, than she has as a singer and even her most successful hits have been collaborations with other artists or vocal features on their songs.

Her last two albums were unfortunately not particularly well-received, did pretty badly on the world charts to say the least (although both outsold Britney’s latest effort…) and she did the bare minimum when it came to promotion… And now, she’s recently been infuriating fans because of her lack of interaction with them and a severe lack of any information regarding new music, which she has been “promising” and dropping small tidbits about for the past THREE years.

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There has been no word on a release date (Christina herself has constantly said “later this year”, “next Spring/Summer” or “soon” for a long time now), no word on what musical direction she is taking with the new sound and hardly any word on who she’s working with, although rumours are rife she has a number of big songwriters and producers on it, including old favourites Linda Perry and DJ Premier and new partnerships such as Da Internz and Elle King.

So, will Xtina ever be as successful as she once was? Can she have a fourth BIG era similar to the ones she had in 2000, 2003 and 2006? The answer is debatable and many might not think so, BUT there are certainly a number of things she can do so she can at least not seem like a lazy bitch who no longer cares…

1) DON’T return to The Voice

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Seriously, the number of times she has returned to the show is ridiculous. And unfortunately her reputation on the show has not always been great. Many people have criticised her for things she’s said to contestants, her “feuds” she’s had with her fellow coaches and the fact that she’s spent more time on the show than she has on her own music. She has also promised a number of times she was leaving the show to focus on her music career, rather than helping others who get nowhere after the show even if they win… Then returned! What she needs to do is to stay away from the TV personality side of her career and focus all her attention on herself and her own thing. Sure, there’s no harm in her returning to perform her new material on it, but The Voice as a project has run its course and needs to be abandoned for good.

2) Work with other producers

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Ok, so we’ve established that Christina is said to be working with quite a few big name producers and songwriters – some of whom she’s worked with before. But more names are needed. She’s spoken of her preference for working with well known producers but not ones who are “on trend” and she’s managed to recruit a lot of such people in the past as well as some lesser known ones for Bionic. However, with these producers she needs to get a creative hold back on her music. On Lotus, she seemed to have less writing and producing credits on the tracks than she did previously and many of the finished songs did not gel or resonate with fans, and it may be because it was quite clear she could have been simply given them and recorded them. Perhaps her full heart and soul was just not in some of the songs for this reason? Others have speculated that since she released the album within 2 years of Bionic, this was “rushed” by Christina’s standards as her previous albums were recorded and released 3-4 years apart.

While I can’t really list many other new songwriters and producers she could work with on this album off the top of my head, it would be great to see/hear her work with previous people again like Tricky Stewart, Claude Kelly, Ester Dean, Rob Lewis, Mark Ronson, Rob Hoffman and Heather Holley (both known for helping Christina launch her career), Glen Ballard and Scott Storch, all of whom lent their creative skills to MANY of her hits of different sounds and genres. Christina herself also needs to get back to writing and producing too, as she’s proven she’s a good lyricist and great with melodies and harmonies as well.

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However, one person she needs to steer clear of is Sia. Now, they made some lovely songs  for Bionic and Burlesque and Sia even co-wrote the disco-themed song Telepathy, but this collaboration has had its time. Christina is credited by most for bringing her to a wider audience when they worked on Bionic together and now Sia is off making her own (awful) music, despite saying she wasn’t going to anymore, them reuniting just doesn’t appeal to me and others.

3) Promote GLOBALLY

Do I need to elaborate? Probably not but I will anyway. Christina promoted her first three albums very heavily, performing and touring across the globe and doing a countless amount of PR for them. When it came to Bionic, she started off well, but then as soon as Not Myself Tonight began to nosedive in popularity and the album started to garner negative reactions, she cut promo short after releasing You Lost Me, which could have potentially been a bigger hit than it was. She cancelled promo in the UK but then announced a tour, which was also cancelled not long after. She cited that she needed to start promoting Burlesque, which she did, but timings were not on her side… Or was it because she knew there was no saving it?

Then when it came to Lotus she was STILL on The Voice again, and beyond a couple of “big” performances, most of her appearances were kept to being on The Voice. Her looks and live vocals gained more attention – and none of it positive either – than the music itself and she very quickly gave zero fucks about promoting the album; the lead single didn’t even get a proper performance except for this mediocre mess.

So this time, she really needs to up her game. Many fans blame her record label for not pushing her out there more, and while they may be right to an extent, Christina herself is also to blame. As I said, sure she can go on The Voice and promote her new stuff but that’s it. I’m sure many shows would love to have her on them to interview her and allow her to perform; she has appeared on most US talk shows since then but none for the reason of promoting any new music. And then she needs to reach out to the world as well. Christina is (or was) very popular in the UK, many parts of Europe, South America and Australia and New Zealand but her abandonment of these territories means she is missing big opportunities to reinstate her one glorious status as a global pop star.

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4) Interact with fans

As well as actually putting herself out there promoting her new shit, Christina also needs to rectify the major backlash she faces from fans who hate that she doesn’t interact with them; just take a look at the comments on her Facebook page and replies to her tweets to see how angry people are that she prefers to pointlessly promote Oreo ads than her music. While granted Christina has never been one to like having a strong online presence, her shying away from the outside world doesn’t do her image any good. Nobody is asking her to suddenly sit down and reply to her fans’ comments like so many other celebrities do but if she kept up and did it every so often, there wouldn’t be so many negative comments for her to face in the first place. And it’s unfortunately quite sad that the last time she “spoke” to fans was through a very short “Q&A” when she “promoted” Lotus and it’s a shame that the only times she has ever posted so much is when she told people to vote for her team on The Voice, shared her looks from the show and most recently, posted a bunch of photos from her birthday party.

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Come on, Chrissie, a little more effort for your fans is all they ask!

5) ECLECTIC is the keyword

One big thing Christina has above her own idols, her peers and those who came after her is that she is eclectic. Her versatility as an artist has transcended a vast number of musical genres and sub-genres, including: pop, R&B, hip hop, Latin, jazz, blues, soul, funk, gospel, rock, electro-pop, dance, power ballads, even reggae and most recently disco and country. The likes of Whitney, Mariah, Céline, Beyoncé, P!nk, Britney, Miley, Demi or Ariana have never, with probably Madonna being the only one who has.

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On Stripped, she touched on a number of those genres in her songs and then on Back To Basics and Bionic she focused on a specific group of genres/sub-genres that made up “concept” albums. Back To Basics was praised for its completely new direction and one no other artist was taking at the time, while Bionic was a big risk for her that didn’t quite take off but was appreciated by some.

Some have pondered whether this next album will be more “urban” (due to Pharrell Williams, DJ Premier and Da Internz being involved), which is a sound Christina has done well before and while she has always maintained that she doesn’t repeat things or sounds, there is no harm in revisiting some of them for an album that showcases what she is capable of music-wise. And knowing how long she takes to release an album these days, she may as well cram as much in one as possible – and dedicate a whole album to Latin/Spanish music as she has also promised.

6) Non-sexualised first single

Let’s look back at the past four lead singles from her previous albums: Dirrty from Stripped may now be a club banger classic, but it was extremely controversial (even in the UK where it was a hit) and flopped on the US chart; Not Myself Tonight from Bionic caused a stir for its sexualisation and of course, alleged “copying” of other artists and only had moderate success; and Your Body from Lotus was yet another song about sex and barely made any impact whatsoever. BUT Ain’t No Other Man from Back To Basics was Christina’s first single to reach platinum status in the US since Genie in a Bottle, charted within the top 10 in more countries than the others, received more critical acclaim than them and won her a Grammy. And that’s without it being a sexual song.

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Moral of the story? Don’t try too hard. Christina attempted to justify her reasoning behind Dirrty, which is all quite understandable, but it was clearly too much for some people and by 2010 it was no longer a shocker, nor original. What Christina needs as a first single is one that really puts her back on the map and it doesn’t even have to necessarily be a club banger. A song with more depth and meaning than sex and partying, clever or interesting lyrics, a memorable melody, good beat, great vocals and of course clever marketing are the main ingredients she needs – she just needs to stay clear of sexualisation (but that does not mean she should eliminate this side of her in other songs on the album) and controversy for the sake of making a statement with her return to the scene.

7) Collab with other artists

Christina has recently worked with A Great Big World, Pitbull and Maroon 5 on massive hit songs and also re-recorded a Lady Gaga song with her. Now, these are big names and the results were well received, but what Christina needs this time is others collaborating with her on HER material and the list of possibilities is quite endless: Ed Sheeran (had as a guest mentor on The Voice), Cher (missed a major opportunity in Burlesque), Celine Dion (she wrote a tribute to Christina for Time magazine), Justin Timberlake (old friends), Missy Elliott (again), Demi Lovato (a big fan), Shakira (a fellow Latina who could help with the promotion of her new Spanish album), Ricky Martin (again, and a similar reason as Shak), Gwen Stefani, Miley Cyrus, Alicia Keys (again, but this time a proper collaboration) and Jennifer Hudson (has mentioned a number of times she’d love to).

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With any of these very different artists who are each well respected and/or successful in their own way and with the right songs, things could only be good for both, especially with Christina’s “waning” status – even if her name and vocals did help others recently. It would also help cement her aforementioned reputation for versatility since all the above artists come from various musical backgrounds.

8) Take care of her voice

She’s been known for having a beautiful, big voice since 1999 but the change and decline as well as ups and downs have been quite prominent over recent years. Some have noted that she has the natural vocal beauty and talent but lacks discipline when it comes to keeping a consistently healthy vocal technique, although have also commented that she must have some extra special vocal cords, because there has been no damage to her voice akin to Whitney (dramatic deterioration), Mariah (nodules) or Adele (needed surgery). Now, as she nears 40, she needs to take good care of her voice.

Above: decent vocals, even if supposedly lipped

Hopefully the past few years of little performing has meant she has been able to get some good vocal rest and help, but then again, some performances show little improvement, or if they did once, the following time she seemed to take a step back. Old habits may die hard but with good coaching and putting her own knowledge of how to sing properly (which she’s shown a number of times before that she does know and can), she can at least prevent any further decline or lasting damage.

On top of this, her new material needs to be less vocally demanding and stuff that she can pull off live without the need to lip sync or dodge certain parts (Candyman high note or the bridge in Fighter, anyone?) and will not, in the long run – especially when touring – wear her voice out as her last two tours were cut short due to “illness” and Back To Basics was meant to be a great vocal era for her. This also includes reworking old songs that fit her current vocal state and range, again without needing to resort to lipping and dodging, while keeping them recognisable as well as fresh and exciting.

9) EXPLORE her voice

Even with the above advice on taking care of her vocals, Christina can still explore and experiment with her sound as she has done so before. Her current big vocal pluses are a gorgeous, rich lower register and a pretty, agile falsetto, both of which she does not use to their full potential. In recent performances she has shown off what she can do in these areas, but putting them to good use on new material would be amazing. She’s done it with some songs before so she can do it again. These are also two areas of her voice that get a lot of positive reactions, as her belting is often considered very marmite, which is not helped by her tendency to push the notes or go overboard with them. Her lows and falsettos, however should undoubtedly remain strong and in tact.

Above: great, controlled low notes

Above: nice falsetto runs

It’s also really nice to hear Christina restraining herself on songs. A number of popular fan favourites from albums have been songs that require little to no belting, soft and straight singing that isn’t marred by her growls and excessive runs. And in Bionic she pleasantly surprised many by using auto-tune creatively to change up her trademark style.

10) Get a new hair colour

Christina used to be known for changing her hair more often that she changed her shoes, having had some pretty wacky hairstyles and colours in the past. She recently dyed (or used a wig/extensions), her hair red which went down a fiery storm with fans, but it didn’t last long as she soon when back to platinum blonde, which has been her signature shade since about 2006. She has played about with different looks whilst on The Voice but again, these barely lasted a week and didn’t exactly promise anything long lasting. Auburn/red actually really suits Christina and is something we hope she’ll bring back again for a new record because she has always talked about being someone who loves to reinvent herself, but when there’s no new music, reinventing oneself in a big red chair doesn’t speak any volumes. So she really needs to embrace this era style-wise just as she last did (sort of) for Bionic and definitely did for Stripped and Back To Basics.

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So Chrissie, let’s have it! Have you got what it takes to ensure a comeback that puts you back on the radar AND the charts? Who knows, but third time lucky and hopefully 100% effort will be displayed this time. Let me know your thoughts on what Christina needs to do to get back on top!