At some point during Christina Aguilera’s Liberation, one wonders: What exactly is the pop star breaking free from?
As far as artistic control is concerned, the former Mouseketeer pretty much did it with 2002’s Disney-defying Stripped.
Since then, the 37-year-old has taken one artistic gamble after another, from the nostalgia-tinged pop of Back To Basics to the forward-thinking gems of Bionic.
Perhaps the freedom alluded in the title of Aguilera’s eighth studio album is in the form of melodic expression.
Lead single Accelerate packs together bits and pieces of at least three great songs into one hell of an eccentric track. The result is polarising at best, but one that certainly cements Aguilera’s reputation as a risk taker. Unfortunately, that adventurous streak is a lightning-in-a-bottle moment in this 15-song collection.
That’s not to say that Liberation merely goes through the motions though.
Far from it, numbers like Sick Of Sittin’ and Fall In Line push the agenda of feminist movement. Although, many would think the former is a jab at Aguilera’s former stint on The Voice after that infamous interview with Billboard.
And then there are also those well-publicised associations with hip-hop and R&B. The come-hither Like I Do bears the sultry brilliance of some of Beyonce’s deeper cuts from the post-4 era.
But if anything, Liberation comes across more like a conglomeration of genres: airy tropical pop (Right Moves), heart-rending soul (Twice), head-banging rock (Sick Of Sittin’) and of course – hair-standing powerhouse ballads (Unless It’s With You).
Individually, they sound great. As a collective though, it does seem as if Aguilera is clutching at straws to return to her former pop glory.
While the standalone quality of each track works great in the era of music streaming, chances are Aguilera’s experiments might be lost on the younger streaming demographic.
But if the liberation intended here is about breaking free from commercial expectations, then the real question is: Does the former pop princess even care about pop success anymore?