It has been six years since Christina Aguilera released her last album. Once ubiquitous in the music world, she took a hiatus from recording and has spent most of that time as a judge on The Voice. However, with our current political and social climate changing rapidly, Aguilera couldn’t resist an opportunity to convert herself into a musical conductor for young women throughout this country. Hence, the release of her eighth studio album, Liberation.
The superstar weaves her way through ballads focusing on the #MeToo movement, and the necessary steps needed to develop empowerment for women. Her messaging and stylistic team were clearly taken seriously, as Aguilera called on Anderson Paak and Mr. Kanye West to assist her with the grand production. Christina definitely prides herself on creatively taking control of this project, and that shines right through her lyrics and vocal registers.
In fact, her singing un-ironically became the focal point of Liberation. The pinnacle of her melodic endeavors happens to occur on the most evident track about womanly greatness, “Fall in Line.” Demi Lovato, who lives off of dramatic performances, brings a jolt of life to the instrumental. The delivery of the “distorted man voice” as a bridge is just as powerful as Aguilera bellowing her lyrics about female independence (“But I got a fire in my veins, I wasn’t meant to fall in line”).
The first third of the record reminds us of why Aguilera received such high praise throughout her career. The atmospheric piano-driven introduction (“Liberation”) initially gave me goosebumps, mainly because Christina seemed to be heading in a more ambitious and experimental direction. The small interludes cleverly placed in between the beginning of the record effectively enhances her desires, specifically with “Dreamers” leading into the aforementioned “Fall in Line” single.
Unfortunately, very rarely was Aguilera’s remarkable songwriting on full display.
The West-produced lead single “Accelerate” formulated into this awkward and cheap millennial pop tune. Also, the usually reliable Ty Dolla $ign becomes severely under-utilized, especially for a hook. Rather than his voice over-powering the production, Ty instead hides behind the horribly fast-paced synth lead (seemingly used on 808 and Heartbreak). His cadence is comical and terribly gravelly. He sounds like an old man dying frankly.
“Right Moves” acts as a head-scratching 180 for Aguilera. The Jamaican-inspired track completely abandons her glorious and luxurious openers. The very skeletal tropical beat turns stale long before Keida and Shenseea enter the track. GoldLink’s on-point contributions to “Like I Do” suggested that maybe there would be a restoration of momentum for Aguilera. Sadly, that wasn’t really the case.
Dismally, Liberation went from being an important milestone for young women living in the 21st century, to a project where its ringleader seemingly became more entranced with staying culturally relevant, notably with her constant references to today’s biggest trends in pop music (i.e. weirdly referencing Charlie Puth in “Like I Do”, or stating, “I just left a lit-uation popping by the High Line, walked in, no list, fuck a go sign.”). It’s painful how much Aguilera wanted to emulate Beyonce’s Lemonade multiple times on each of these songs. She’s aware of her impact in today’s musical landscape, and tries to change that. It’s a difficult task, catching up with the world after a six-year hiatus.
When she’s not clumsily taking about sex (i.e. “Pipe”), Aguilera actually shows her full potential. “Unless it’s with You” gives Aguilera freedom to reach any register imaginable, and write a beautiful love song in the process. The slow-tempo ballad puts Aguilera right in her wheel house, effectively ending the album on a high note.
Beyonce’s uncanny skill to cleanly navigate through hip hop and R&B instrumentals throughout her discography is what sets her a part from the rest of pop music. Aguilera attempted that on Liberation, but not as awe-inspiring. The positive moments on here were fantastic for sure, but ultimately, Aguilera fails to understand today’s culture fully.