Artist: Christina Aguilera
Rating: 9 / 10
Christina Aguilera is back with a new look for the release of her sophomore effort entitled “Stripped”. I missed the ride the first time around when she hit the world with the magic of a ‘Genie In A Bottle’, due to fear. I heard her voice and immediately thought that this girl had the pipes to be a hall-of-famer. Then I heard the teeny boppy first single and was scared to listen to the album. Not that I didn’t like the track – just that I knew she was far more talented than that and I didn’t want to be disappointed. It seemed to me that the label was going to plug her into the popular image at the time regardless of her obvious vocal ability to be on the next level.
Now, we jump forward several years after that huge success and Christina still holds a name that is at the forefront of pop music. Her new single “Dirrty”, remakes / remixes the song from and features the can’t-go-wrong-on-the-mic emcee, the funk doc himself, Redman. Immediately the buzz started to flow. “Did you see the new video? Did you see what Christina had on? (Or DIDN’T have on ?)” Then add with it the album cover of a topless Aguilera, the Rolling Stone cover that would make an 8 year old boy say, “fuck cooties I want some of that”, and the various pics floating around from that shoot. Fear set in again. Fear that this was going to be something that was made for record sales and nothing more.
Couldn’t be more wrong actually. Her whole new image isn’t indicative of the content of “Stripped”. This is the Christina Aguilera I was looking for when I first heard her open her mouth. Which makes me wonder why at all did she concoct this new persona. Fear here again. Fear that she’s going to miss a whole new audience. I have told many heads of this album since I’ve listened to it and everyone I spoke to have already written her off because of this new image. Ass out gets attention in lustful eyes but not respect. If she wanted a change she could have taken off that over applied makeup that she has become known for and let us see that beautiful face. Of course “Stripped” isn’t going to lack sales because her fans are already going to cop it regardless.
The intro kicks in with some synth sounds building up to buzz clips of some past Aguilera press. Then the magic begins. The track drops and… awwww damn. You can’t help to feel the funk. Christina drops a short vocal on the intro setting up the idea of the album, that she is doing her and only her hence, Stripped”.
This is a magnificent album. The first track is a hot club banger with our hostess amplifying her intro message that she’s going to be her. The low point on the album drops a hint that it’s coming at 1:49 into ‘Can’t Hold Us Down’ then the threat becomes real at 2:06. Lil’ Kim. From this track you’d think you were going to be treated to the same type of pop album that you’d expect from someone of Christina’s status in the pop industry. Put that fear to rest.
Pay attention. The next two cuts, ‘Walk Away’ and ‘Fighter’ play off of each other. The first is a jazz tinged soulful introspection outlaying the emotions of not being able to let go of someone that’s not good for her. This track flows seamlessly into ‘Fighter’ that takes the contemplation of the previous track and uses it to gain strength. Lacing this joint with a rock feel, Christina is already displaying some of the versatility that runs wild on this album. This is what is going to break the Mariah Carey comparisons. The cross genre styles used on this LP are pulled off effortlessly. Some attempt to do this sort of thing but not everyone can be that chameleon-like.
She continues on with the latin influenced ‘Infatuation’, where she weighs the advice of her mother to be careful when dealing with men over her feelings that make her want to lose control. Then on with ‘Loving Me 4 Me’ that’s preceded by the ‘Loves Embrace’ interlude. This track has an Erykah Badu type feel to it. Christina lays out the “love me for me” message in a sultry voice that exemplifies the emotions that the words speak on. She is instructed to continue to “speak on” what’s on her mind by Alicia Keys in the first few moments of ‘Impossible’. Christina on the vocals and Alicia on the piano? We have another winner with this jazzed out r’n’b joint. And she doesn’t let up.
‘Underappreciated’ comes in with that r’n’b singer moan over the lead in horns. I’m getting an Aretha Franklin / Motown feel here, I haven’t quite put my finger on where it’s coming from yet but those horns and that funk guitar are definitely a part of it.
Half way through this album and our friend Skip Track is nowhere to be seen. Christina and her team have handled business here. From what I heard Christina wrote most of the songs on “Stripped” and if that is so then the label needs to leave her alone and let her make her own way. With so many “manufactured” artists today that have engineers whose names should be headlining the J-card instead of the actual singer, it’s refreshing that an artist of this notoriety is delivering a product such as this. This isn’t the pop album you’d expect and that, to me, is important. Christina Aguilera is one of those Diamond sellers of 10 million or more copies. A lot of the pop artists that are in that bracket are usually doing some type of frivolous bubble gum music specifically engineered to enhance the voice that the artist, in most cases, doesn’t have and to break commercial sales records. So the beautiful thing is that those fans are going to run out and buy this album expecting the same thing they have been getting and get something that surpasses that image. Hopefully the taste of fine dining will piss listeners off at the fact that they’ve been force fed fast food passed off as gourmet cooking and affect a change. But I’m a dreamer.
“Don’t look at me,” Christina whispers at the beginning of the cover ‘Beautiful’. You don’t have to look, just close your eyes and listen. Christina does a good rendition here utilizing those precious throat muscles. Another style change here slightly, not pop, not really r’n’b either. And even another style, on ‘Make Over’ that is introduced by a background voice saying, “Let’s do something crazy”. Crazy it is, in the sense that this sort of an alternative rock influenced track is even more different than what you would expect. Want another variation? Cruise on into track 13 ‘Cruz’. On this cut, Christina is talking about change, emphasized by the chorus “I’m leaving today, I’m living it, I’m leaving it to change”. ‘Cruz’ could find a nice home on a Shania Twain friendly radio station with its acoustic guitar and live band feel. The inspirational ‘Soar’ flies you off to another place. Gospel anyone? Complete with choir, tambourine and handclaps. From church to the club, ‘Get Mine, Get Yours’. I will refrain, from making comments on what would happen if Ms. Aguilera would “let me get mine.” You know what they say about guys who write long reviews. Hey call me ‘Dirrty’, I don’t mind. Sixteen tracks deep and we find the lead single. Gimme a moment to wild out, Redman is ripping that track right now and I can’t type with my hands up.
It seems we’ve come to the end here with a continuation of the intro track and if Christina has been ‘Stripped’ down to her unmentionables over the previous tracks then she’s got a little bit more teasing to do. Three more tracks to go and she still doesn’t let up with the hotness. The perfect for a movie soundtrack ‘The Voice Within’ and the later ‘Keep On Singing My Song’ will have your day brighten and make you generally feel good. But it’s the deeply personal ‘I’m OK’ that has Christina completely naked. Christina’s heartfelt lyrics delivered over an acoustic guitar and some background strings about an abusive father will make you stop and listen. The track actually starts off a little disturbingly and makes you wonder how far that abuse actually went – you can’t help but feel her pain. I believe she said that she recorded this in one take and cried a little during the recording. This will undoubtedly speak to many and could easily be the theme song that gives them strength to deal with similar situations. “Bruises fade father but the pain remains the same, and I still remember how you kept me so afraid, strength is my mother for all the love she gave, everyone morning that I wake, I look back at yesterday, and I’m ok.” This is where an artist shines and the influential voice stardom empowers them with can be helpful.
As I said before, musically this is the Christina Aguilera I was hoping for. She showcases her talent in an hour and seventeen minutes of brilliance. With so many styles done so well it’s apparent that they are all a part of her. This album has the ability to reach a new audience for Aguilera as well as satisfy her established fan base. The scantily clad young kitten image does nothing for “Stripped” though and really has no relevance to the material other than to the title.
Bootleggers do me a favor and leave this one alone. Reward quality, this is one that can wear the price tag well. There are several choices out there that just beg to go the MP3 and downloaded route, while some aren’t even worth the time nor the blank CD-R it would take to get that free copy – but this isn’t one of them. I said LP before because all the strong collections of music seem to have come out during the days when vinyl was the dominant media. Records still have that air of signifying a REAL release, because these days anyone can get CDs made at home. This is not just a CD – this is an album, an LP. The view from here at the body of a “Stripped” Aguilera is lovely.