CD Review: Christina Aguilera, “Bionic”

Well, you’ve got to give her credit for picking an honest title, anyway. Christina Aguilera called her latest album Bionic, and she meant it — this is an hour of machines awkwardly mingling with their human host, and in the end, it smells like a sweaty Lee Majors.

Okay, okay, so it isn’t that bad. In fact, parts of Bionic are really sort of fun — but not enough of them, and when the album works, it often works for reasons that don’t have an awful lot to do with Aguilera. Why is one of the more soulful and expressive young pop singers on the market so eager to bury herself under sheets of frozen plastic? And when, goddammit, will she finally reach the point in her career where she cares more about songs, and using her voice, than dumb club bangers?

Don’t look for answers anywhere in Bionic‘s 15 tracks (it’s actually 18 if you count the three between-song “interludes,” but we won’t). You do get a whole hell of a lot of music — now, as always, Aguilera subscribes to the “take too long to record one overstuffed album so you can pretend it’s AN EVENT” philosophy practiced by Michael Jackson after Thriller — but most of it could have been recorded by anybody. As a teenager, Aguilera enthusiastically embraced the two modes of expression available to young pop singers — which are, for the record, loud narcissism and horniness — but as an adult, she hasn’t figured out how to move past them. The result is an album elaborately constructed to feel big, but which has nothing at its center to hold the damn thing together. Christina likes to get dressed up. She likes to dance. She likes to have sex first thing in the morning. Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

“Okay,” you might be saying. “So lyrically, Bionic is warmed-over Janet Jackson and Madonna records. So what? The important thing is the music, man. Specifically, the cool quotient of the producers and/or collaborators she hired. So tell me something good.” To which I respond: “M.I.A., Peaches, Switch, Polow da Don, Tricky, Focus…, Linda Perry, and Le Tigre.” In other words, this is one of those records that’s supposed to sound futuristic in the most retro way possible, and on that front, it’s a success, loaded up with farting synths and chintzy drum machine beats, not to mention odes to cunnilingus (“Woohoo”), fashion (“Glam”), and herself (“Vanity”) torn straight from the pages of the late ’80s/early ’90s Madonna songbook, as well as one nifty track (the M.I.A. collaboration “Elastic Love“) that sounds a little like Art of Noise rubbing shoulders with, I don’t know, Cyndi Lauper in 1985.

“Elastic Love” is probably Bionic‘s best track, a creamy blend of slip-slidey synths and boomy, treated vocals that sounds nothing like anything else on the album or, for that matter, anything Aguilera’s ever done — and if Bionic were shorter, it’d be something more than a distant memory drowned in filler by the time the album drew to a close. As things are, though, you’ve still got 11 songs to go when “Elastic” fades from your speakers, including a terribly ill-advised bloc of five ballads that runs from the droning “Sex for Breakfast” through “You Lost Me” before yielding to the stomping Katy Perry wannabe “I Hate Boys,” which is sure to kill at least as many Top 40 brain cells as whatever the Black Eyed Peas are doing right now. (Also, if anyone at RCA still has a brain, the Peaches/Le Tigre collaboration “My Girls” will be a summertime single.)

As you might have guessed, Bionic is sort of all over the place, which is what happens when an artist like Aguilera tries to have it both ways. The album has the length of a major statement, but it says nothing; it’s pop Top 40 spumoni, a patchwork blend of juvenile double entendres like “Woohoo” and AC singles-in-waiting like “Lift Me Up,” a Lifetime-ready inspirational ballad that Bette Midler could have knocked out of the park 20 years ago. Are we supposed to believe in either of Aguilera’s poses? When are we supposed to take her seriously — when she’s crooning about being naked and vulnerable, or when she’s barking stuff like “I’m not cocky, I just love myself…bitch”?

I’m guessing the answer Aguilera’s most committed fans — and maybe Aguilera herself — would offer is that we aren’t supposed to take any of it seriously, that it’s just a pop record. And that’s a valid point, at least for the half of Bionic that smiles at itself in the mirror while shaking its ass on the dance floor. But that still leaves those AC ballads, which feel awfully crass next to stuff like “Sex for Breakfast,” and the interludes, which suggest Aguilera thinks we’re listening to something important here, rather than the machine-assisted flailings of an artist prematurely past her prime. Next time, she’ll be better off if she concentrates on the human element.

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  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    She is an unfortunate robot, isn't she? She is a product of those who prop her up, and they're a motley bunch, so you have to be nice to the crowd that want more “Beautiful”, bow to those who miss “Dirrty” and, at the same time, act above it all and mature via “Back To The Basics”. What you wind up with is part GaGa-aping, part Beyonce'ing, and an unfortunate callback to “It's Britney, bitch.”

    With all those cards out, it will still debut at number one, so expect the Terminatrix to keep assimilating whatever's top of the charts for a long time to come.

  • Anthony

    Bionic makes Lady Gaga's The Fame look like a piece of homework about to be marked by Miss Aguilera: I am sure Gaga will get an A though!

    Yeh, interesting take on the album. I am a fan, and I am fan for one reason only: she has the best voice on any artist past and present. It is interesting that you bring up Madonna, yeah she is a good business woman who came up with 'revolutionary' ideas, and a decent performer, but the talents not there is it, I mean yeah Madonna is good, but if anyone should be more successful than her and have more respect than her then it is Christina, simply because she is better vocally, and thats what its all about at the end of the day, no one can take the music and sound from Christina, it should be about talent, it is music afterall. If anything it will be Christina that will be listened to in a hundred years time, just because she is truly talented and no one can take that away from her, or criticise that because noone else does it like her and has it like her. Also she is doing a futuristic sound because as a vocalist she wants to cover all genres of music, thats her plan. The album is true Christina, amorphous and slightly confusing, but you know, she is obviously doing something right, especially if her albums goes to number one in thirteen countries like her previous, Back to Basics.

  • http://twitter.com/StatusMessage Greg

    I completely agree with this review. Bionic is WAY too hyped, by both her and her fans. The futuristic stuff is not that far out there, and quite limited. Some of the ballads (which are not futuristic at all) are ok, but as a whole, it's not that good. Her albums are just too long.

    At Anthony: Who cares what she sounds like vocally if shit is coming out of her mouth? They might not be able to take her voice away but they can dictate what comes out of it or put pressure on her to produce safe/boring stuff. The lyrics are really bad. Hell, even the sound quality is bad when you get down to it – every track is completely squashed thanks to the loudness war.

  • Jorge Hecen

    xq el parental advisory???
    sera por la de I hate boys?

  • MrMayor

    Yeah, Christina is a Pop star….she's owned by the corporation, like a puppet, people can deny it all they want, but if she doesn't go along with the corporation agenda (indoctrination) then they will Destroy her, you end up like DMX, T.I, Tupac and so on.

  • http://icansingtoo.com KC

    Bionic is a good comeback, but leaves the best for last. See the track-by-track review here: http://bit.ly/97q6KJ

  • http://www.popdose.com jefito

    For a second, I thought you were saying “Vanity” was the best song on the album. Yikes.

  • zandria1

    I am a fan, she has the most amazing voice of any female artist in years and years so I will definitely give this album a chance but I wasn't impressed with the overly theatrical version of “You Lost Me” that she performed on Idol last night.

  • Roger

    Typical Aguilera. All talk, nothing to say. She can scream, but has zero to offer past that. I'm so glad I've found artists infinitely more talented than her in both the singing department and well, everything else was easy enough. A trained monkey is more talented than her in every other area of “artistry”.

  • Vic03

    I agree, if it were all completely based on talent, Christina dominates everyone in the business – hands down. But she tries too hard to stay relevant with a lot of in-your-face sex that distracts from the music. You're sexual, Christina, we know, we know.
    She seems very defensive in her interviews. She speaks as thought she doesn't care what people think, but acts as like shes desperately trying to prove something. She needs to chill and just let it be about her music and her unique voice. I think she has a bad attitude and she will never be as successful and groundbreaking as she could be, if she were just to stop trying to supposedly be the baddest bitch around.

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    What she needs is to get in a studio with a producer, just one, who actually is interested in recording her voice versus using it to uncover the latest trick in ProTools. I'm not sure who that would be, but it would need to be a younger equivalent to T-Bone Burnett or Rick Rubin – someone with a one/two-take ethic.

    It won't happen because Bionic will debut high enough that everything I considered a liability will be seen by her label as an asset: the “all-star dream team” of producers, the song doctors, enough synth bloopery to even give C3PO a hard-on… If it was about her voice, why is she consistently trying to hide it?

  • Carlos

    Album's great! Don't forget to buy it on June 87th!

  • 4Real

    All I see in the article and comments is that after 10 years people still do not understand that Christina Aguilera can do it all and with each album will showcase this. There's something for everyone and for almost every mood in Bionic, just as there was in Stripped. The title track in particular is my favorite.

    Overall- I think that when you're vocally gifted, people will feel that you should stick to one genre and have one message, thankfully C/X doesn't.

    Bionic in stores June 8, 2010. Cop it!

  • Jah Jah

    Jah Jah | Posted at 12:50pm Xtina song “you lost me” she says… “i feel like our world is being infected.” Ya, that beasue this crap is out and we have to listen to it! The only thing infected now are my ears. Honestly this cd sucks just like that last few. I cant believe she waits so long to release cds and when she does it like she threw them together! Really??? ugh! want to see some talent then pick up a copy to the Charice cd…. there is someone that can sing and wants to, unlike xtina who thinks farting in a microhpone for an hr makes a cd….. wow sad she is and i have no mre respect for her as a artist….. i would be happy if she stops making music after this cd…. again just so so so bad. DONT WASTE UR TIME DOWNLOADING OR BUYING BIONIC! AWEFUL!!!

  • http://twitter.com/emmacrisp Emma Crisp

    I agree with this review, so far from what i've heard of the album its a very tepid 'comeback', actually make that luke warm manky tea. There are some good songs on here, some average songs and some god awful songs on here. The ones i've liked so far are elastic love,you lost me, desdunate (sp? is that spanish? from the oohs and ahhs i am assuming its about getting nekkid, a subject very close to ms aguileras heart – yes we get it, you have sex and you like to have sex with yourself! really shocking and diverse subject that, yawn.) and thats pretty much it. If she had stuck with the style of these songs throughout the record, wrote more tracks with Sia, M..I.A and the like maybe the record would have had some sort of style and pattern to it. As it stands its a bit ol' mess. It reminds me of Madonnas Bedtime Stories record, where she brought in way too many producers and thus it became over produced and no actual style was present on the album other than a mess of sounds and ideas and it just didnt sell very well. One would have thought Christina would have looked into this sort of thing before she decide more is more. Didnt she have like two cds on her last album? Humm, obviously not learned her lesson there!

    Shame really, she has some good ideas but then decides (much like how she applies her make up) to trowl it on thicker and thicker til you really cant tell who the hell this artist is underneath all the mish mash of styles and sounds. And as for pushing the sexuality button, boring!!! Been done way too many times, and she just isnt as believable at this as say GaGa and Madonna are, you get that they dont take any crap from anyone, Christina? Humm not so much. She sung a disney tune and was on the Mickey Mouse Show! And shes so cute and tiny. Bless her.
    My score? C. Must try harder next time!

  • http://twitter.com/michaelxfennell Michael

    She had the point in her career where she cared about her voice and the songs, Back to Basics anyone…?

  • Chuckie Snyder

    I actually really like the record! I'm glad she is trying something new and not just making the songs everyone wants her to sing! yah the album is all over the place, but its her trying out all these different sounds like she did with stripped. On stripped each song sounded differently just like bionic does! Im loving the ballads All i need, You lost me (AMAZING), and Lift me up! great songs really show a softer and more toned version of her voice! and the Up tempo songs are fierce too WooHoo, Elastic Love, Vanity, Glam, My Girls all great tracks too! Im really enjoying this new direction of christina! and i can't wait to see what she comes up with next!

  • Dan

    Bionic is amazing! Totally different from her other albums and i know some will not like it… but i loved it…so glad she's back!!!

  • booyah

    She'll never outdo Whitney in her prime.

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    That's always been true of Aguilera. Although I know she can sing, I most often feel she's missing the crucial part. Put it this way: you can have the paint box, make a lot of pretty pictures, but if it's soulless then that's all you've got. Houston, before she went all melismatic to compete with Mariah, sang like she felt it and it came through.

    So in a way, Christina as robot is the joke she played on herself.

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    Back To Basics failed to really grab the youth market (while garnering interest from the more mature demographics, which was what I thought she was aiming for.) Christina ended up getting steamrolled in the popularity portion by Katy Perry and, once again, Britney doing her own regression act. Then Lady Gaga came along and the whole complexion of the thing has changed. (Two to one odds Britney's next album finds her aping Gaga too.)

    See, a lot of it comes down to their labels being thoroughly opposed to any idea of artistic growth because it is unquantifiable. They can count on a certain amount of curiosity money if the pop princesses continue to tread in the jailbait tropes.

  • Mir

    You are actually comparing “stripped” to this? Wow, you really should get your head examined! “Stripped” actually told an story, “bionic” is a mess, like someone trew up all the hot artists from this moment (M.I.A. “bobblehead”, Katy Perry “I hate boys” etc) ..

    Like more here, I don't understand why an artist like Christina wants to use her voice like that in songs … She has an extremely good voice, it's just used in the wrong way on the album.

    Like Lady GaGa, I don't understand her either. Saw her performing “pokerface” on just a piano live on a show here in Holland, and I was blown away. I'm really godsmacked why girls like this won't use their voice in the songs, but instead want to use all the beats, echo's and whatnot.

  • Bri-Neezy

    I guess I just don't understand why people ever have a negative thing to say about ANY pop music – Christina Aguilera aside. I mean, what are we really debating here? Christina Aguilera (as good as she is) isn't going to save rock and roll…for that matter, neither is M.I.A. or Sia – Madonna couldn't save it, and I'm sure Britney & Lady GaGa aren't going to save it either. I'm just saying, pop music is not something that you listen to for deep and introspective lyrics, so why anyone is suprised that Aguilera is singing about getting head is beyond me. I think the music is produced just as well, if not better, than the majority of pop music that is out. I think many of the lyrics are tongue-in-cheek. I don't think that Aguilera showcases the potential of her voice, but I also don't think that's what she (or her team – does it matter?) was going for. There are some things I dislike about the album, but that's to be expected when, again, one is listening to pop music. Overall, I love this album. I don't love it because it speaks to my generation, I don't love it because no one is music has ever mentioned sex before, and I don't love it because the lyrics openned up my third eye – I love it because it's catchy and I can sing along to it at the top of my lungs on my hour long commute :)