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.