The voice is back. No, I don’t mean another season of the singing competition series. I mean ‘the voice’ of Christina Aguilera, who is certainly one of the best singers out there, maybe ‘the’ best. It’s almost hard to believe, but it’s been 20 years to the very month, June of 1998 since her debut single Reflection from the Disney film Mulan was released. It has been six years since her underrated last album Lotus, and now it seems as if she needs to set herself free, which she does so well with, her latest, Liberation.
As with her last few albums it begins with an introduction piece before going into a full song. This intro is also the title track and something she’s not done before, using an instrumental score which comes from Academy award winning composer Nicolas Britell. There is even a second introduction piece which is a quick a cappella of Searching For Maria from the Sound of Music.
The first full song is called, Maria with a sampling of the Jackson 5. It’s a real treasure hearing those big Christina vocals bellowing against each other on the gospel tinged third verse / chorus and young MJ singing along as if it’s a duet. It’s not just some fictitious Maria that the song is about. Since Aguilera’a middle name is Maria these words reflect to herself “Inside of my own mind / I believe my own lies / I’m facing the mirror / Where, where is Maria? Why, why, why don’t I see her? I just wanna see her”.
Maybe to find herself she needs this musical and lyrical liberation. Aguilera has always experimented and sometimes too much, as was the case with the underperformed Bionic album. It’s here on Liberation that she frees herself into just the right musical exploration successfully as with the 70’s vibe funk-rocker Sick of Sittin’, where the words say it all “I can’t live with these chains on me / I have to get free / I’m sick of sittin’ I’m sick of sittin’ / I’m sick of sittin’ / I been workin’ too hard to not be livin’” Has she got that right. Keeping the musical explorations wide open, did we ever think Christina could pull off dancehall reggae successfully? She does so with a little help from Keida and Shenseea on Right Moves.
Lyrically the album is full of messages of freedom and strength. In particular is the ode to #MeToo on Fall In Line a duet with Demi Levato, “All the truth in a girl is too precious to be stolen from her / It’s just the way it is / And maybe it’s never gonna change / But I got a mind to show my strength / and I got a right to speak my mind / And I’m gonna pay for this / They’re gonna burn me at the stake / But I got a fire in my veins / I wasn’t made to fall in line / No, I wasn’t made to fall in line.” Surprisingly Levato holds her own right up there with Aguilera’s voice.
That’s the great thing about this album, Christina seems to perfectly pour out the right amount of vocal emotiveness per track. She could always just overpower every song, but no she only belts it out when it’s necessary and holds back when needed as she “oohs” her way through some other songs like the sexiness of Pipe or the 80’s Peter Gabriel sounding Masochist. Her voice is an instrument that she can play with to perfection.
We are served two back to back ballads Deserve and Twice which are both about the confusion and struggle of love. Twice is one of the album’s best songs which has only vocal and piano showing Aguilera’s strength is not based on exploring her musicality or collaborations, but just the voice we all know makes her one of the best… ever. Did I just say that? Yes!
The weakest moments are the RnB /hip hop numbers, Like I Do (with GoldLink) and the Kanye West produced first single, Accelerate which features, Ty Dolla Sign and 2 Chainz. Both songs left me feeling she’s out of her place. The saving grace of both is her vocal delivery.
She saves the best for last with a heartfelt deep ballad that is Beautiful no matter what they say, called Unless It’s With You. Christina’s emotional doubt “The most beautiful beginnings can go down in flames / It’s inevitable and that’s what ’s got me so afraid / I’d rather be alone / I don’t want no white picket fence / dozen roses and a wedding dress / fairy tales are fake happiness” is transformed into a confessional of everlasting love “I know that’s it’s scary / But I know that it’s true, I’m saying I do / ‘Cause I don’t want to get married / unless it’s with you / Beating heart and trembling hands / Take me just as I am / ‘Cause all that I want is one and the same / For the rest of my days / You can ask me in a hundred years / if I would still be standing here / when we’re old and gray I’ll answer the same / Our love will remain.”
In a female pop world full of Perry, Swift, Adele and Gaga Aguilera shows them all how it’s really done, because none of them can hold a candle to her flame.