Uh oh. I think I might have some nice things to say about Christina Aguilera. It’s not the butt floss in her video or the guitar-aided cleavage on the cover of Rolling Stone. The new Christina who was so cleverly mocked in an SNL “Making the Video” parody (“No, it’s got to be more dirty!”) isn’t what’s making me want to blush, hide and never show my face around music critics again. Her new album Stripped is just generally a good listen. Whoa, I said it.
Opening with a blitz of sound bites from the likes of Kurt Loder and Eminem, she lays it out there — she’s not who you think she is. She’s deep, yo! Actually, she mostly wants you to know she’s stripping away her teen pop image and showing us the Real Christina. Apparently, the Real Christina needs nearly 80 minutes to express herself. She also needs Alanis’ producers and Redman and Alicia Keys and Lil’ Kim. Obviously, she’s got to be as nude as possible while doing this. Clearly!
“This music is who I am,” Christina tells her audience. She experiments with several genres, everything she cites as inspiration to her, including soul. Admirably, she does explore several pop avenues, in the process displaying her tremendously versatile voice. Thanks to some guidance from Linda Perry (who gave Pink her new sound) and Dave Navarro, she sincerely dabbles in pop-rock, achieving a Santana/Michelle Branch (Carlos, what were you thinking?) style.
OK, now I’m about to get downright complimentary — prepare yourself. There are a lot of good songs here (“Make Over,” among others), many that she co-wrote. Granted, the album is exhaustively long and some tracks are just bad, bad, bad (“Soar”). Her diva vocals, which I personally associate with oral surgery, is challenged to reveal a very real talent. She impresses, whether crooning over Alicia Keys’ piano or growling alongside Spanish guitar and muscular drums.
Back in 1999, when Christina and Britney were going head to head for teen pop queendom it was a contest between the Babe Performer Who Can Dance and the Somewhat Irritating Chick Who Can Actually Sing. But now Christina can do more than belt out the high notes; she can creatively apply her singing chops to a variety of styles. Since bubble gum is fading and fans are looking for some real music, Britney is losing her edge. Christina is back.
So now you ask, who is the Real Christina? Is she a white/Hispanic Lil’ Kim? A Mouseketeer Alicia Keys? Still that Somewhat Irritating Chick? Just an upscale centerfold trick? The answer is D, all of the above. By naming her album Stripped and applying a strict rule of maximum nudity for all public appearances, she appears to be selling the “liberation equals no clothing” equation. The album, however, is not slathered in sex (at least aurally it’s not). The one song that makes up for a lack of naughtiness in most tracks is “Dirrty” in which she moans “I need that uh to get me off/ sweat until my clothes come off.” Whoa there.
Call me a pawn of the MTV establishment, but I like Stripped. If I keep telling myself it’s a new album by some random singer, and not in fact Christina “That Obnoxious Chick in High School” Aguilera, then I can listen without retching once.