Monday, May 17, 2010

Christina Aguilera: The Road to Bionic and how Xtina still struggles to find an identity.

Christina Aguilera may be gearing up for another blockbuster album with the June release of Bionic but the lead single Not Myself Tonight is still failing to make an impression. I’ve fallen hard for the track since it was first released to our ears a few months back but it seems to have fallen flat with many, failing to climb the all important Billboard Hot 100 Stateside and yet to make any kind of radio/chart impression over here. I’m not exactly sure why. It’s Polow Da Don (a proven hitmaker for Fergie, Usher, Chris Brown and countless others) doing club-ready synth inflected R&B pop with plenty of oopmh. Maybe it’s just not distinct enough for the fickle pop world.

It’s funny too that the much hyped video has failed to raise any eyebrows or create any discussion. It’s Hype Williams taking the messy, aggressive sexuality of the Dirrty video and giving it a slick S&M tinged rework, all slinky shapes and futuristic looks. Christina vamps it up with relish, throwing around various “sexy” music video moves and ideas (girl on girl, hip thrusting, mounting a willing male) with some harsher looks (a bejewelled mouth piece and gimp mask for the big dance number). What’s interesting about the video is how it never feels sexy but that sort of feels like the point. Christina used her sexuality like an explosive device back in the Stripped days as a very deliberate way to emancipate herself from what she saw as bubblegum pop hell. Not Myself Tonight follows a similar path. While visually it’s basically Madonna’s Human Nature and Express Yourself sprinkled with a tinge of Lady Gaga, there’s a base, in-your-face and completely tact free approach to the enterprise that makes it feel like a video only Christina could have made.

This is an interesting point because Christina Aguilera, for all the record sales and superstar status is an artist whose identity sometimes feels ill formed and poorly defined. Stripped (her second album after her debut release which was commercially succesful but ultimately generic) was all over the place musically but that worked in her favour. Doing a broad range of pop styles allowed Christina to step out of the line of Britney clones she’d been placed and put her own stamp on her own material, particularly vocally. 

Back to Basics, the follow up, was similarly all over the place but in a much less satisfying way. The idea was solid, Christina paying tribute to the music that inspired her growing up, but it was ultimately a messy affair. A double album referencing everything from jazz legends to war-time pin up girls it tried to do too much with too much material. Having said that it threw up plenty of gems, not least the beautiful Save Me From Myself a sparse but moving ballad for which Christina did a video at the tail end of the campaign as a thank you to fans (it’s actually beautifully shot and well worth a look). What Back to Basics did do was point that Christina’s lofty claims to being a true “artiste” as opposed to a run of the mill pop starlet were not unfounded and her knack for picking producers she trusts (her partner in crime Linda Perry) and talents that may not be all over the radio (hip hop producer DJ premier who produced the lead single Ain’t No Other Man and responsible for some of the more soulful, interesting moments throughout the album)

Which brings us nicely to Bionic and what Christina promises is her foray into electronic music and working with more “leftfield” producers and writers including Sia, Le Tigre, Goldfrapp, Ladytron, John Hill, MIA alongside pop heavyweights Linda Perry, Polow Da Don and Tricky Stewart. Christina has talked this up to be an edgy and out there release following some electro pop tracks on her 2008 greatest hits release and The Spirit soundtrack. So far much of the leaked material doesn’t really suggest that despite the promise of tracks such as her electro take on Falling In Love Again and Beautiful, which was reworked in a particularly Goldfrapp-y version entitled You Are What You Are

Of the newly leaked tracks there’s WooHoo the cringey but enjoyable ode to oral sex with MC of the moment Nicki Minaj on guest duties. Clips of the title track, the Le Tigre produced I Hate Boys and the epic sweep of the Sia penned You Lost Me have also surfaced. You Lost Me is undoubtedly impressive, with Christina’s voice taking on a husky, damaged quality but the others are enjoyable but a little flat. Which is a shame because there’s plenty to get excited about with regards to this album. The list of people involved is impressive and the concept, of the “bionic” or superhuman qualities of females and Christina’s own vocal range, being a lofty but impressive one. The artwork for both the album cover and the deluxe edition is beautifully realised too.

What sounds like the problem so far is an artist with one idea being confronted with a label who have a completely different one. Christina has admitted that the recording of Not Myself Tonight came at the end of the process when she finished working on her feature film Burlesque (which is no doubt going to be a must see, possibly not in a good way) which sounds a bit like the label getting cold feet to me. Throw in the Ladytron tracks being relegated to one feature on the bonus tracks for the deluxe edition, the Goldfrapp work being left unfinished (according to them) and a single failing to catch on and it’s starting to look like Christina is on unsteady ground.

At this point it seems unfair to write off the project entirely or Christina. While she always talked a lot of guff about her artistry (well before Lady Gaga did the same thing and irked people so much) and had pretensions well beyond her own sound there is a clearly an attempt at something a bit different intended in her work and hopefully Bionic will achieve that to some degree. This recent interview for Australian TV suggests Aguilera is ready to finally unleash a straighforward pop record, hopefully laced with some edge befitting her big ideas.

Until then check out her Billboard interview which is rather good and then laugh yourself silly at her interview with Out magazine which is unintentionally hilarious. The album is released in Ireland on 4th June and the 7th worldwide. Check out her official site for more, including how you can order the gorgeous looking deluxe edition. Not Myself Tonight is available to download now. 

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Sunshine Summer Song Alert: Katy Perry & Snoop Dogg bring us "California Gurls"

The weather has been consistently incredible the last few days here in Dublin. Actual sunshine. People eating ice creams outdoors. All kinds of summer type activities. And with that comes the summer songs. 

This time is always great for pop, all the big summer songs are either floating around or slowly making themselves known. The current fave of mine (among quite a few things I should say) is the new Katy Perry track "California Gurls" with a guest rap from Snoop Dogg thrown in for good measure.

Intended as her response to Empire State of Mind by Jay Z (honestly) this is exuberant, uber-cheesy but amazing summer pop that lodges in your head on first listen and makes you want to grab a jeep, hit the beach and other Californiaisms the minute it starts.

It also continues the time honoured tradition of songs that sound a bit like Holiday by Madonna and are effortlessly upbeat. See: Ke$ha's Tik Tok, Kylie's Love At First Sight, Jessica Simpson's  A Public Affair and Madonna's own Get Together for further proof.

It's also another example of the amazing if completely by the numbers production of Dr. Luke who smothers everything he does in glitter, synth goodness and a nice whiff of cheese. Speaking of Luke, there's a fantastic article about him in this month's Rolling Stone, well worth a look.

Perry has promised her forthcoming album is basically a joyous, Ace of Base referencing pop romp and this certainly sets the bar in the right place. Love or loathe Katy Perry you're going to be hearing this everywhere over the next few months. Get ready.

Now if you'll excuse me I'm off to bake in the sunshine. AMAZING.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Spin That Record - Tunes of the Moment Circa May 2010

Oh I know the blog has been away awhile but while we're getting back into the swing of things, enjoy a list of tunes that I'm enjoying at the moment. It's your typical mix of old/new and respectable/not respectable. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Lady Gaga - Alejandro (The Sound of Arrows Remix)

Ke$ha - Lost Weekend

Alexandra Burke feat. Pitbull - All Night Long

Hurts - Better Than Love

Miley Cyrus - Can't Be Tamed

Uffie feat. Pharrell Williams - ADD SUV

Crookers feat. Kelis - No Security (Bart B More Remix)

Ciara feat. Ludacris - Ride

Kelly Rowland - Commander

Enrique Iglesias feat. Pitbull - I Like It

Mini Viva - One Touch

Kid Sister  feat. Kanye West - Pro Nails

Hole - Samantha

Usher  feat. Nicki Minaj - Lil' Freak

Fragile: First Time Playwright Strikes Gold

As you may have heard the Dublin Gay Theatre Festival is now taking place across our fair city with a slew of big shows coming to town. I'm still trying to figure out what to see (Billy Redden is on my list for sure) but I did make my way to the first performance (and world premiere no less) of Fragile on Monday. It was rather good. So good in fact that I only went and wrote a review about it. Imagine that:

Having built up a strong amount of pre festival buzz many are eager to see Aaron Rodgers' debut play Fragile at this year's Dublin Gay Theatre Festival. As you may or may not know by now Rogers is just 18, not that you'g guess from the depth of writing on display in Fragile. Co-directing his first professional piece (alongside talented director/actor Roisin Watson) and with a script he wrote himself, Fragile is a terrific achievement. It deftly manages to take a youth centric view on love, relationships and sexuality without veering into cringe worthy territory. 

Telling the story of Nick (played by Denis Grindel who puts in an intense and charismatic performance throughout), a young gay guy looking for love in all the right and wrong places, it's an enthralling peak inside the mind of a young gay man. Backed by the male and female sides of his mind (who are in constant tease mode with Nick, the audience and each other throughout) we slowly piece together the feelings and obsessions of a generation of gay youth with the vocabulary to express how they are feeling but only a tenth of the experience to understand it. Fragile does a fine job of mixing humour and angst alongside some beautiful staging, terrific performances (the back and forth between Janna Fee and Fergus McCarthy is a joy to watch) and scarily assured writing. An absorbing and enjoyable play that is well worth a look.

Fragile runs until Saturday the 8th of May, at the Cobalt Cafe on North Great George's Street. Book yourself a ticket here