×

Album Review: Christina Aguilera’s ‘Liberation’

On her first release in six years, it's clear the singer wants to move toward hip-hop... and that she isn't missing "The Voice," at all.

What is Christina Aguilera feeling emancipated from? you may ask, digging into “Liberation,” her first album in close to six years. One track offers some tantalizing clues. “I ain’t built for no fake shit,” she wails, almost gutturally, over rock guitars and faux crowd noise produced by Anderson .Paak. “It’s good pay,” she additionally points out, but “I can’t move with these chains on me / I had to get free. … This ain’t a game to me.” The song title: “Sick of Sittin’.” Now, if it were any other star expressing an animus toward chairs, we might think she was speaking figuratively. But it doesn’t take much reading between the lines to divine that this openly disenchanted ex-“Voice” jurist really has written one of the few breakup songs ever to celebrate splitting up with a TV show.

There are other titular connotations along the way. Deliverance from the patriarchy, for instance, is the theme of “Fall in Line,” the feminist duet with Demi Lovato that had its live premiere on the recent Billboard Music Awards show. Truth be told, though, Aguilera could have named almost any of her previous records “Liberation,” since she’s usually advancing a reactive narrative every time she releases an album, whether it’s freeing herself from innocent teen pop with “Stripped” or freeing herself from being seen as a rootless sexpot with “Back to Basics” or going electro with “Bionic”; even 2012’s underwhelming “Lotus” was “a rebirth.” The gorgeous cover art for “Liberation” promises another kind of real-deal breakthrough, with the onetime “Naked” singer embracing nakedness in makeup and a freckles-and-all ethos.

The 15-track collection within, though, bears signs that Aguilera didn’t completely settle on what kind of album she wanted to make over the four years she recorded tracks for the project. It’s diffuse enough that when a producer makes a repeat appearance, the results tend to be pretty different from one to the next. Take Kanye West’s two production contributions: “Maria” (which generously samples the 1971 Michael Jackson number of the same name) is a deeply personal, melodramatic, over-the-top scorcher about looking to reclaim the child inside (Maria being Aguilera’s middle name). “Accelerate,” on the other hand, is a peculiar hookup with Ty Dolla $ign and 2 Chainz meant to further establish her hip-hop bona fides — and it sure is a lot more fun, even if it’s by no means a hit, and even if she nearly gets lost in West’s fray.

The general rule for “Liberation” is that the less hard Aguilera sounds like she’s trying, the more enjoyable the album is. That certainly applies to the delightful “Right Moves,” an airily erotic piece of pop-dancehall that has the singer extolling the pleasures of doing it “on a glass table,” “on a wood staircase” and “on the cold concrete.” (Maybe that counts as trying too hard, in its fashion, but at least the track itself is painless.) That’s in contrast to the heavy-handedness of the Lovato duet, a well-intended power ballad done in by unclear messages about modesty and empowerment and a distorted male voice that kills the vibe right when you want to hear two of pop’s great vocal power brokers tag-team-slaying it.

But a couple of songs live up to the un-cosmetic cover image. (The self-consciously sassy “Sick of Sittin’,” for all its intrigue value, isn’t one of them.) The scenes-from-a-marriage “Deserve” is very much in the conversational, hash-it-out style of Julia Michaels, who co-wrote it with producer MNEK, but Aguilera easily slips it on for size as if Michaels’ issues are her own. And the token-organic-ballad closer, “Unless It’s With You,” makes you wish she’d done more than one track with Meghan Trainor enabler Ricky Reed. Here, Aguilera, who’s been engaged for more than four years, sings about being marriage-phobic but ready to take the plunge. She makes her hesitant liberation from singlehood sound even more vital than her glorious decampment from a TV seat.

Christina Aguilera
“Liberation”
RCA Records

Producers: Nicholas Britell, Kanye West, Che Pope, Anderson .Paak, Mell Beats, GSP, Bryan “Composer” Nelson, Kosine, MNEK, Kirby Lauryen, Mike Dean, Sango, Neenyo, Darhyl “Hey DJ” Camper Jr., Tim Anderson, Ricky Reed, Aguilera

Guest performers: Demi Lovato, Keida, Shenseea, GoldLink, Ty Dolla Sign, 2 Chainz, XNDA

Album Review: Christina Aguilera's 'Liberation'

More Music

  • Adam Lambert Libertine show, Front Row,

    Adam Lambert Does Double Performing Duty on 'Idol' as New Winner is Crowned

    A new “American Idol” winner was crowned Sunday night, but not before Adam Lambert returned to the stage for the season finale for a pair of performances that included his new single and a duet with eliminated contestant Dimitrius Graham Sunday. The show concluded with Louisiana teen Laine Hardy showered in confetti as he was [...]

  • Beyonce Emilia Clarke

    Emilia Clarke Worried Beyonce Would Hate Daenerys After 'Game of Thrones'' Final Season

    After eight seasons as the Mother of Dragons, “Game of Thrones” star Emilia Clarke has a lot of celebrity fans. But the most impressive? Probably Queen Bey. In a New Yorker interview posted after Sunday night’s series finale, Clarke revealed that she met Beyonce at an Oscars after-party hosted by the musician and her husband, [...]

  • Zia McCabe, Brent DeBoer, Courtney Taylor-Taylor,

    Concert Review: The Dandy Warhols Need No Confetti at 25th Anniversary Show

    When the Dandy Warhols released their first album in 1995, the year’s bestselling record came from Hootie and the Blowfish. Suffice it to say, a lot has changed in the music industry and the world since Courtney Taylor-Taylor and Peter Holmström met in Portland, Oregon and decided to form a band. Yet on Saturday night [...]

  • John Mayer Madonna

    The College Dropouts: John Mayer, Madonna Among Music Stars Who Didn't Graduate

    It’s commencement time at colleges coast to coast, which means seeing successful musicians at podiums receiving honorary degrees — among them, Justin Timberlake at Berklee College of Music and Jon Bon Jovi at the University of Pennsylvania. But the music world is full of stars who never matriculated and still managed to come in at [...]

  • ‘Hitsville: The Making of Motown’ Acquired

    ‘Hitsville: The Making of Motown’ Acquired by Showtime for U.S.

    Polygram Entertainment, Universal Music Group’s film and television division, along with Capitol Music Group, Motown Records and Fulwell 73 announced today that “Hitville: The Making of Motown” has been acquired by Showtime for release in North America with plans for a fall premiere, and Altitude for theatrical release in the UK and Ireland. The feature-length [...]

  • Dimitri Vegas

    Dimitri Vegas Talks 'Rambo V: Last Blood' Role, Working With Sylvester Stallone

    Dimitri Thivaios, better known as dance music’s Dimitri Vegas, is taking his skills beyond the DJ booth, picking up a major film role in the forthcoming “Rambo V: Last Blood.” The Belgium-born Thivaios, who headlines massive EDM festivals like Tomorrowland with his brother Michael (they perform under the banner Dimitri Vegas and Like Mike), has [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content