Saturday, June 07, 2008

We Are 'Bionic' 'Prima Donna's [Full]

June 8th, 2010 marks a big day for Ms. Christina Aguilera, a woman I've looked up to and been a fan of since I was 12 years old (hard to believe, right?). Her fourth official studio album, Bionic, is officially in stores, after four years of waiting, speculating, anxiety, annoyance, and a little more waiting. 

Needless to say, it's an album I've been anticipating greatly. Having had the chance to preview the album a few weeks back, I've been listening to it full length quite often, and to say I'm a bit...dissapointed would be an understatement.While I definitely do not believe she should be getting the side-eyes and hurtful reviews she is receiving, I am strangely finding myself in the camp of disbelief at her choices. The fan-ship will never waver so long as she still has that voice, and while it may not be under the striking spotlight on this record, as she's stated herself, she's already proven herself. We all are allowed our off days, after all.

By and large, Bionic is not a bad record. It's simply confused, disjointed and lacking direction. A handful of songs show real promise, but given the way the record is currently being promoted, I am not optimistic that they will be chosen as radio singles. However, Christina has survived without much airplay support (see Back to Basics), so I'm hardy worried. My biggest complaint is in the Bionic strategy. While she insists the record is about empowering women, so much of it comes off as crass, whiny and at times downright shallow. This hardly exemplifies a strong, powerful, Bionic woman to me.

(Funny note: So many people bemoaned her reliance on melismatic trilling throughout her career. Here comes Bionic, which is somewhat 'stripped' of that, and fans come out of the wood work bemoaning her lack of it. Hmm)

I found myself a bit lost for words in an attempt to piece together how I felt about the project. There's a lot I really like, and a quite a bit I'm not so fond of, leaving me in a bit of fan-limbo. Then, inspiration struck, as my friend and respected blogger-in-crime The Audio Diva approached me about writing a collaborative round-table review of the album. It's a long and winding read, and for the Christina fans here -- it's worth it. Thanks again, girl, for thinking of me for this project. I look forward to many more collabos with you in the future. :)

Ms. Audio Diva and I took the liberty of breaking down each track in each of our respective tones in an attempt to give an unbiased look at the Bionic album, despite both of us being big and ardent supporters of X-Tina. Read on, fam.

Mel: It took a few listens for me to really grasp this one. It wasn't what I think I was expecting when I heard the term "Bionic", which I suppose I should be happy about, but in terms of what I wanted...I'm still kind of unsure. When I first heard it, I immediately thought it sounded very Santigold, so when I heard it was co-written by the less famous female member of Dirty Money (Kalenna Harper), I was kinda shocked.

Audio Diva: Same here. M.I.A. and Santigold, due to the tempo shifts and interruptions. Since I like Santi, this is why I gave it another chance. It's growing on me though, I was thinking this song was going to be something else too...but we can't always get what we want.

Mel: Very true. I'm very keen on Santi, and M.I.A. is growing on me with every release, so I'm guessing this will grow on me with time. I would honestly be happier if she went in this kind of direction as a single choice over the actual second single but...I suppose we can just wait and see with that.

Not Myself Tonight
Audio Diva: We've heard this, been there, groused about the concept, side-eyed the's still not what I want from Christina, but at least she's ripping through the vocals on this.

Mel: I suppose that's true. I really, REALLY wanted to like this, I just feel like the lyrical content is...lacking. To put it mildly.When I heard she was working with such underground, strong women, I wanted something with a real message to be the rallying cry, not an anthem about getting drunk with the girls. But, at least  Polow Da Don's production sounds somewhat fresh...except for that "1, 2, 3, 4" bit he always seems to do.

Woohoo (ft. Nicki Minaj)
Audio Diva: Nicki Minaj. *shudder* I don't get the hype with her...she makes me itch, and I don't forgive her for sinking Robin Thicke to lower levels. And now here she come she comes to bother Christina...sigh.

Mel: She doesn't bother me quite as much, and I'm kind of liking "Massive Attack" if only for its novelty. "Woohoo" just makes me cringe. I feel like Christina made so many strides with being strong, being able to be a pretty popstar AND unafraid to exert your sexuality but this...I just do. not. want. After listening to the whole record, I kind of feel like it totally sticks out too, like a glaring red herring. And for some strange reason, her label feels its pertinent to put it out as the second single. Rather than living up to this "Women are Super-Bionic Beings" hype, it's rather caving to this sad mentality that women are only good for one thing. I really don't want to overthink it, but it's kind of just sitting there waiting for criticism, isn't it?

Audio Diva: iCan't with this song let the criticism begin. It's quite moronic. It truly dumbs down Christina Aguilera, esp. vocal wise, and you don't really hear her vocals through this. It's hella clunky. It really tries to bite what made "Can't Hold Us Down" great with Nicki Minaj trying to be all Lil' Kim and stuff just ain't sitting well with me. And do I hear a bit of "Everybody in the club get tipsy?"

Elastic Love
Mel: Lyrically, this was one that really kind of intrigued me, and sonically, it was more of the sound I was expecting.

Audio Diva: This song works, and like you said, it was what I wanted from Xtina as it does sound futuristic and downright jarring for someone like Christina. The bouncing effects are primo.

Mel: While I like the song, I feel like it's more M.I.A.'s personality projected onto it, rather than it feeling like an inherent Christina song (like she seems to do so effortlessly with the Sia and Linda Perry tracks). The bouncing effects are really jarring. They wake you up that she's really trying to make something different in the commercial realm of pop.

Mel: .....I'm really happy she's returning to her Spanish side. However, this is more of the farcy, "I'm a sexual being" malarky that I'm not willing to tolerate. Why even bother using the Spanish? It adds nothing to this.

Audio Diva: That "get naked" bit. No. No. NO! I felt the need to bathe when she said that.

Mel: Other than the occasional horn blare in the background. And she still sounds pretty darn awkward speaking Spanish...says the quiet white gringo. Didn't Britney have some awkward song about getting nakey too? *shakes head* I tend to pretend this song never happened.

Audio Diva: The horns were abused in this as the band nerd in me heard a bari sax! Those bits I liked. And that Spanish ramble was just added in to make the song mucho more sensual. Sometimes you can't sex stuff up with Spanish. This song is too Britney for me...come on Christina, Britney is taking a break, you have the's not 2000 anymore!!

Mel: Word. To. That. And points docked to Tricky Stewart [the producer]. What the hell. This was bad b-side material at its worst.

Mel: After hearing it, I'm not surprised that "Tonight" trumped it as a first single. I don't hate it, but nothing about it screams first single to me.

Audio Diva: Tricky Stewart is back again for another go-round and it's kinda of quiet...a little safe. I kind of like the sparseness of this and the keyboard tricks. Recalls on some 80's New Wave, but doesn't truly stand out. Another grower.

Mel: Since when was Christina associated with "glam" "couture"? I confused. It sounds a little to "Sex and the City" montage-y for me, but I do like it.

Audio Diva: That is a perfect description...I can see Carrie now wading through that obnoxious closet of hers and then stepping out on the street dressed in a couture dress with a big giraffe head on it. But I digress.

Prima Donna
Mel: While pieces of the lyrics are truly obnoxious and not much better than "Tonight", there's something about it that truly captivates me. It's probably the same reason why I really liked "Keeps Gettin' Better" when so few others did -- it's sparse like "Glam" but mouthy and defiant. It also works quite well as a track to strut down the streets to when walking to work in the morning (or perhaps that's just me). Maybe that's the reason why it's my favorite of the "uptempos". There's something kind of satisfying about the way she grinds out "I'm a Prima Donna." I really want it to be a single. And is that Lil' John in the background? What is that about?

Audio Diva: I finally get to hear the empowered Christina, not the submissive one. She's pumping the fist and strutting, and that I'm glad for. Not crazy about the beats and stuff, but once again another grower. And yeah, what cave did Lil' Jon crawl out of to do this...probably thought he was doing "Yeah!" again and wandered into the wrong recording studio. Usher's studio is in the janitor's closet now...

Mel: I'm curious if that really is him or a bad imitation. Either way, it's super dated and very, very noticeable.

Sex For Breakfast
Mel: I kind of wanted to hate it, but it's actually growing on me as days go on. It's not as cliched as some of the other "dirrty" tracks. However, I would like to state that seeing as she's a married woman with a child, I was hoping she would show deeper aspects of her relationship than this. * shrugs * But, A for Effort in an attempt to channel her love for things a bit more bluesy.

Audio Diva: Now let me just say that I LOVED this when I first heard it. Since I'm the soul/R&B fiend, this was perfect for me to slip into, with its dreamy blue lights in basement sensuality. It is a little too "Lovin' Me 4 Me", which is my favorite off of Stripped, but this shows Christina at what she does best..."sangin'"

Mel: Ahh, I was getting the "Lovin' Me 4 Me" vibe as well!I wish she'd show off this side of herself more often, but in more commercial ways. I adored her duet with Herbie Hancock for that Donnie Hathaway cover ("A Song For You"). She's so capable. And so controlled here (vocally at least).

Audio Diva: This track was produced by Bernard Edwards Jr....the son of the late and great Bernard Edwards from Chic, so of course I'm diggin' this like an old soul record.

Mel: Ahh, really? That's interesting! So much of this project gets hyped for its electro production -- it's a little diamond in the rough, really.

Lift Me Up
Mel: It really is a gorgeous song, even if I prefer its first incarnation on the Haiti telethon a few months back. It's very "I Turn To You", "The Voice Within", etc. Her comfort range in terms of being able to switch between belting and being softer and controlled. Basically, anything with Linda Perry's name on it will make me very excited. It's a firm reminder of why Christina is still around, that's for sure. Those pipes just can't be denied.

Audio Diva: I really do adore Linda Perry's productions and writing credits, and this is just another to add to the list of "me likey". Beautifully done track that yes! showcases Christina's tremendous vocal power. Dear goodness this woman can sing, and glad her voice isn't buried by the production. In agreement that it sounded so glorious during the Haiti telethon. Hats off to Linda and Xtina on this one.

All I Need
Audio Diva: We're on Sia's Street now. Now I'm a lofty fan of Sia, she's a great songwriter and this song features that same breezy sound she's noted for.

Mel: True true. I'm a relatively new fan to Sia's catalog, and the next three songs on this truly stick out with her stamp of approval. This one might just be my favorite of them. She's finally talking about the son this album was supposedly inspired by. The lyrics are just vulnerable enough, but are still vividly clear. It's one of the reasons why I adored her more emotional tunes so much. I don't know how much of this Aguilera wrote herself, but I don't think she gets enough credit for showcasing so much of herself on a personal front.

Audio Diva: I loved how this sounded like a lullaby and though some might find this song boring, the music box chimes and the vocal arrangement I connected to right on off. Call me a little sappy, but Christina's ballads and mid-tempos are hitting it for me on this. She is finally showing some honesty with the lyrics...more please!

I Am
Mel: It vacillates between being strong and vulnerable, which I find quite relate able. I like that we get to see a bit behind the veil, as Christina often puts on a bit of a front of of how strong she is. She stated several times on Back to Basics and 'Stripped' how she put up a strong guard in an attempt to not get hurt, and I like how "I Am" kind of discusses this in a new way.But it doesn't quite fit into the 'Bionic' mindset as I understood it.

Audio Diva: Strangely, Christina sounds like Natasha Bedingfield to me. Hell, this whole song sounds like it came from the Unwritten album.

Mel: Mmm, now that you mention it, it really does.

Audio Diva: Hmm...I never thought of the song in the context you stated. Now I probably need to listen to this thoroughly for the third time to hear the lyrical content you heard so I can appreciate this more. I just couldn't get over how much she sounded like Ms. Pocketful of Sunshine for me to venture further. It's a nice mid-tempo, but 'nice' seems like a dull word to describe what is obviously a bit of a yawner to me.

You Lost Me
Mel: This is the big ballad I wanted people to rally around, honestly, because it has a little bit of something for everyone. It was a bit more unique and sonically fresh than "Lift Me Up", and the lyrical content was more complex. It was kind of like "Hurt" in that regard -- it sucks you in because you want to know why she sounds so wounded. It kind of blows my mind when you compare it with something so light like "What A Girl Wants" or "Genie In A Bottle". She's come so far in terms of relevancy.

Audio Diva: Exactly! It has that sorrowful soul wail to it that makes you shiver and feel the icy aura of the song. It's got a real mature sound to it, a far cry from what we heard earlier on this album and from "Genie in a Bottle". Like you said, Christina has come far, and it shows greatly in this track. Gorgeous, right down to the strings and man...that vocal performance. This needs to be a single, like now.

I Hate Boys
Audio Diva: Maybe if this song had been somewhere in the beginning it would've worked...but when it comes after the gorgeous "You Lost Me", it's just laughable.

Mel: I really don't even know why she recorded this drabble. I could have written something better in the 6th grade. The banana comparisons? The use of the word "suck" when she's in her late 20's and happily married? I'm just...ugh. I just don't understand. I'm sure every girl (or guy, I don't judge) can relate to this at some point but to include on a disc with a (proposed) direction such as this makes zero sense. Zilch. It just comes off immature.

Audio Diva: Polow Da Don...*sigh* his formula is running thin, especially on this. Had the same reaction concerning the "maturity level" of this song. Christina is a grown married woman, with a son. And she "hates boys"? Okay. 'you lost me' (see the song title comes in handy!) Very childish and something I would've shouted during a Four Square 3rd grade.

Mel: Exactly. I hand hovers over the delete button as we speak.
My Girls (ft. Peaches)
Mel: This whole song came off very...Ting Tings to my ears. I don't mean that in a negative way, I love the Ting Tings. It's just...strange. It kind of sums up this whole album to me -- it's all very disjointed. One second she's electro, the next she's sorrowful and introspective, and the next she's attempting to imitate those who are innately what they are.

Audio Diva: Didn't notice before but oh yessss...I hear The Ting Tings too! Also takes a page from Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl", the high school football game chanting, bleacher stomping, cherry slushie tartness...all that stuff. And you're so right, disjointed it is.

Mel: While a part of me wants to accept that her "owning" the use of "bitch", etc. is her owning her sexuality and sense of femininity, I kind of feel like I'm cheating myself. Past generations had strong women who stood for something without stooping to negative labels like this to describe them. Why do we? All of this just screams Paris Hilton through Auto-Tune to me. I want Janet Jackson, not Snooki in a club, you know?

Audio Diva: Couldn't of said it better myself. "I take myself to be an awfully wedded bitch?" Cringing over some of the lines in this song. It's even worse than "I Hate Boys". While you want it to be empowering, you're getting misguided. I can't understand why she thought this was a good idea as it totally undermines the reflective and honest position her ballads were in. Just a real sour note to end an album on. Real tart.

Mel's Final Verdict: Oh, Christina. I’ve waited four years for Bionic, and a large part of me wants to feel like it was in vain. While the initial concept seemed so ahead of your time, by the time you had the final product wrapped and ready to be devoured, much of what made the mentality unique is being shoved down our throats by any popstar with an Auto-Tune application. Christina insists this record is about being empowering, how strong and powerful women are as humans, capable of giving life to another. Since I believed this to be the case, I wasn’t expecting a full (rather lengthy) album that primarily relies on lyrical clich├ęs regarding getting drunk in a club and being sexy, with one cut relegated to the reference of her little one. You’re almost 30. You’re married, and have a son. We’ve been through this phase of your life together, there is no need to rehash it. As a fan, I wanted something that would continue to be life-soundtrack material for the years that wait ahead of me. In a way, I feel that if she didn’t have that incredible voice to back her up, I would label this record as an extreme retread, and it makes me quite sad. Bionic doesn’t know what it is. Sometimes it’s clubby, sometimes it’s melancholy, sometimes it’s homage, sometimes it’s tripe. Comparing it to the likes of the still-varied in genre but much more honest and sincere Stripped seems laughable. With that said, here’s to waiting for studio album #5.

Audio Diva's Final Verdict: Like the album cover portrays there are two sides to Christina Aguilera, and of Jekyll and Hyde proportions, Bionic shows off these facets. Sometimes it works, and sometimes she falls flat. Call it the case of "too many producers spoiling the whole brew", but as the diverse and daring line-up of producers do bring a versatility and vibrantly wakes up Aguilera's style, it damages what she has going on...and that is her voice. Her voice swims throughout the numbers, almost getting covered up by the heavy production, not to mention Christina, the woman herself, is lost in the web of producers fitting her to their style and personalities. On a brighter note, Aguilera truly shines on the ballads and whenever she puts her voice to good use whether it's doing a searing sensual soul number ("Sex For Breakfast"), an emotional confession ("You Lost Me") or stepping out of bounds ("Elastic Love"), she is on her A game.  Lack of direction is to blame for this record as it is overall disjointed (maybe a possible re-scrambling of the tracklist might help?) and has Christina taking on the sound of her guest stars, with the real Christina somewhere buried underneath. While there are some infectious moments (the title track) and noteworthy ones ("Lift Me Up" is Christina's best ballad since "Beautiful"), the remainder sounds like Christina is still searching for a new sound and herself, and shouldn't she have found that out from the previous albums? Disappointed, I am.

1 comment:

J.Mensah said...

Well done ladies! :) I really enjoyed that, you should collaborate more often.

I honestly can't review the album without my own personal bias, but the thing that gets me most about this is the inspiration she says her son inspired her to make this album... but when songs such as "WooHoo" is telling me to eat and taste her vagina, that concept is worrying. But the ballads especially "You Lost Me" are awesome.

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