Archive for R&B

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.

2018 Billboard Music Awards - Show

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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