I just learned on the L Mag’s website this morning that Brooklyn street artist Sure, who’s stuff I take pictures of and post all the time on my tumblr— they are always in my neighborhood and somehow on my different routes around the city— died in Afghanistan.
Oh, Christina’s new album. I’m pulling for her, I always am. It took me until last week to download it, which is weird b/c me and Ms. Aguilera go all the way back to her Dirrty period when she was shameless, orange, two-toned, getting kinda fat, black leather chaps, and piercing everything she could needle through. I loved me some xXx-tina, lest anyone forget my Halloween costume in 2003. I kind of lost interest after that pin-up girl album… she looked great but it was like she got her shame back, and it was pin-curls and domesticity. Really it was just boring and missed the Winehouse/Ronson mark (yuk yuk). I was excited to hear that Christina was working with Santigold, MIA, Ladytron, Le Tigre, Sia and others for the new album. I mean, so excited cos you know 604 was my favorite album in high school, and of course I’d seen Le Tigre at the Che Cafe in San Diego when I was a pup, and of course MIA b/c who wasn’t listening to her en route to McCarren Pool for a flick two years ago. After I heard the lead single off “Bionic,” and saw a snippet of the new video “Not Myself Tonight,” I figured it for Gaga-lite— so tragic b/c it seemed Christ-ina had fully transitioned from trending to following trends. Not that chaps became the shit, but how do you explain Jersey Shore without citing Dirrty X-Tina?
Then I listened to “Monday Morning” at the behest of Professor Dr. Roy Perez MD (tm Max Steele). And it’s so good! It’s one of the Santigold ones. So then I started listening to the other tracks, and there are some really solid songs on there. I mean it’s essentially the pop music version of a Project Runway challenge. The Christina Aguilera challenge. Tim Gunn was like, “make it work, musicians.” It’s MIA’s bumps and tics without her political overtones. It’s Ladytron with the darkness and the chimes, but with narrative lyrical content. The negative reviews of Bionic often cite the one lil quirk of Christina that has remained constant throughout her changes, namely her bafflingly strong voice, is noticeably absent from much of the album. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Hearing a little vocal restraint on Ms. Aguilera’s part is kind of refreshing, and actually makes me appreciate her golden throat even more. Turns out she’s capable of nuance. She can nuance the shit out of a track.
What get’s weird though, and where I understand the bad reviews, is that she often fully sublimates herself into the vocal persona of whoever she’s working with. She’s doing Kathleen on the Le Tigre track, “My Girls,” she’s doing MIA on “Elastic Love,” and Sia on “I Am.” She’s good at it, but she seems to get lost. Therein, it sounds like what it is. A p.a.y.c.h.e.c.k. Also many of the songs have some kind of fatal flaw. Like the chorus for “My Girls” is really boring, and everything but the chorus of “Elastic Love” is boring. “Glam” is hella boring. Actually most of the first half is hella boring.
The lyrics… have their hits and misses. Some of the more interesting words come during my jam “Bobblehead”— a scathing review of smart girls who pretend to be dumb, “why, oh why pretend, I know you got a brain why don’t you use it?”— and the hilariously great “Vanity,” wherein she injects the word “bitch” into just about every line. For example, towards the end, after she hums some wedding chimes, Aguilera intones: “I now take myself… to be… my lawfully wedded… BITCH!!!” and, after the introduction, “Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the flyest bitch of them all? Nevermind, I am!” My favorite part comes in the chorus, “V is for vanity, every time I look at me I turn myself on.” I just. love. that.
By far my favorite song is “Woo Hoo” with Nikki Minaj. It starts off slow, atmospheric and dramatic, a fog of Annie Lennox, and then: “WOO HOO” smacks like a rubber band. “Woo hoo,” as Webster defines it, is a synonym for vagina. Annie Lennox takes off her mask and it’s Lil Kim inside (except the Queen Bee doesn’t really have much use for euphemisms [shut up, Magic Stick. That one was 50’s fault]). Funnest track on there.
I like that she decided to work with a bunch of female “indie” artists, but ultimately the big production is kind of like Snakes on a Plane. A b-movie doesn’t really work with a big budget. Actually… by now the people she’s working with don’t work with shoestring budgets themselves. I just don’t think upping the production is the way to go, her voice is superhuman enough; bionic even. Capable of things we only ever envision. I’d like to see Casio Christina: single take, drum machine, one track vocals with maybe someone doing a rad harmony here and there. What might be considered following even another trend could actually be really honest. Where we start in our bedrooms. Back to basics. Stripped for real.sies.