Christina Aguilera’s new album is big, it’s banging, and it’s packed with potential hits.
Bionic (released on June 8th) is intended to showcase different sides of her personality and her versatility as an artist. So on a couple of tracks - Elastic Love (co-written with M.I.A.), and Bionic - she hits us with some heavy electronic beats, just because that’s something she’s into. Another feature of Bionic are the strong overtly sexual songs – Woohoo, Desdunate, Sex for Breakfast – which are among the highlights of the album, well written and fun. There are a bunch of electropop tracks – Glam, Prima Donna, I Hate Boys, My Girls and Vanity - assertive female songs with a playful tongue in cheek element to them. They’re good enough to storm the pop market with their big hooks and sassy themes, but in the context of the rest of the album they seem a little fake : it’s all a performance, it’s not really who she is as a person or an artist.
“The heart of the record”, says Christina, “the true, vulnerable, raw side of me is seen on the Sia and Sam Dixon records. I wrote a song that sort of has a lullaby feel to it for my son, a very beautiful, simply produced piano ballad called All I Need with these beautiful strings that were attached to it. Three other songs that I wrote with her really spoke true and honestly and from the heart, so that’s why I call it the heart of the record, but nothing really electronically driven was put onto these records, it’s really raw and organic and sweet and simple and beautiful. ” The best of the ballads is You Lost Me, a song about infidelity, on which Christina’s clear and beautiful voice is used to maximum effect. It leaves you wishing that she could have ditched some of the synthpop and given us more of her simply singing.
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Every once in a while an album comes along which is so unique, way out and of itself that all the usual terms of reference just don’t apply. Janelle Monáe’s debut full length album The ArchAndroid is just that. It’s a futuristic fantasmagoria with a bewilderingly wide array of musical styles. Monáe is the black android who comes to save the android community. But as you sense from the range of the songs and the mood music, she’s also going on a personal emotional journey.
Does it all hang together ? I’m going to sit on the fence on this one. Some tracks are difficult listening, most people will find at least a few tracks which they’d be happy to skip. For me, Mushrooms and Roses is a tough listen, and I find the lengthy closing track BabopbyeYa rambling and indulgent. The album does have both plot and structure though. The two sections of the album are introduced by overtures performed by full orchestras. The first section has an edgy feel, with some surprising juxtapositions and crossovers and changes of pace and mood. Dance or Die isn’t a typical hip hop track, it’s quite complex musically. The funky Locked Inside is followed by the slow soulful Sir Greendown, followed by the upbeat anthemic pop of Cold War. Oh Maker has r&b vocals but an offbeat backing track which changes the whole tone of the song. Come Alive (The War of the Roses) brings yet another change of pace to a bouncy B-52s style rock. The second section contains some of the more strange and ethereal music, but also some of the most emotionally satisfying, from the alternative funk of Wondaland to the haunting folk melody of 57821 to the soul jazz of Say You’ll Go. It’s a brilliantly produced album and a virtuoso vocal performance from Monáe. Listen to it a couple of times before you pass any judgement.
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