By Sean Maunier on June 28, 2018
With five Grammys, spots on several “most influential” lists, and 50 million worldwide record sales, Christina Aguilera has very little to prove to anyone. There is no immediately obvious reason the pop icon decided to release a new record, and, six years after her last outing, this one almost comes as a surprise. It may be that in the intervening time, which encompassed six seasons as a coach on The Voice, she simply wanted to find out where she would now fit in the kaleidescopic pop landscape that she had been largely absent from.
The place she carves out on Liberation (★★½) is heavily indebted to hip-hop and R&B. She has long cited these genres as influences, and has borrowed from them on many occasions. Here, she brings them into the foreground. The album features heavyweights like Kanye West and Anderson Paak, who each produced two tracks, and a collaboration with 2 Chainz and Ty Dolla Sign on the lead single “Accelerate.”
Aguilera’s vision, or at least an approximation of it, is most strongly realized in the album’s singles. When “Accelerate” dropped in May, it received a highly mixed reception, but there was no disputing that this was a very weird-sounding track. Its lyrics and subtle crooning echo her early hit “Dirrrty,” but otherwise, the chatty vocals, excessive production and the hand-off to 2 Chainz are a notable departure from what we are used to hearing from her.
“Twice” is a safer, more formulaic track, putting the spotlight entirely on Aguilera, who belts out a pop ballad over only a piano and chorus. The high point of Liberation, though, comes with feminist power anthem “Fall in Line,” a song full of frustration, anger and a long-suppressed sense of defiance. Although the song was written before the #MeToo movement took off, it landed in the middle of it and was readily adopted as an anthem. Demi Lovato almost manages to hold her own on the track, but when the two come together for a soaring duet on the final chorus, her voice hardly registers.
It is no coincidence that the most memorable moments of the album are the two singles that showcase Aguilera’s full vocal power. Her voice has always been distinct and memorable, and when it does get to shine on Liberation, it seems even stronger than it has in the past. Unfortunately, much of the album seems to treat her as a side-piece rather than the main event.
Her producers seem unsure of how to make the most of her talent, which might be most clear on “Maria,” one of the biggest mixed bags of the album. Aguilera brings characteristically flawless vocals to a reflective, introspective song about the interplay between her personal and professional lives. After a whispery intro, she comes in alongside high-pitched backing vocals, a string section, thumping beat, and a harpsichord. It’s an unusual combination that pulls the track in several different directions at once and the narrative is mostly lost. Adding to the issue are lyrics that are often awkward and occasionally downright cringeworthy — a problem elsewhere, with “Pipe” being the worst offender on the album.
Liberation is a highly experimental album, and if nothing else it’s an encouraging sign that even at the top of the pyramid, Aguilera still has things to try and room to grow. There is enough in the album to suggest that a spectacular pop rebirth might still be on the way, but it’s unfortunate that her return to recording is a bit of a false start. She clearly knows where her strengths lie and has a handle on the direction she wants to move in, but through most of the album she appears unable to fully bring the two together.
It’s hard to escape the thought that the album would have been improved with less clutter and a tighter focus, but it has so many moving parts that it is hard to know what would have been best left on the cutting room floor. Aside from a handful of moments of clarity, the final product is scattered and tonally confused. If the album was meant to be a bold, multifaceted new direction for the pop diva, its main problem might be that it contains so many facets, she gets lost among them.
Liberation is available now to buy on Amazon and iTunes, and on streaming services.
By Sean Maunier on May 18, 2022
"Tell me where to put my love," Florence Welch sings on "My Love," released earlier this spring. Whether this is a question, demand, or a plea is left up in the air, but the desperation in her voice is unmistakable. Written in a time of personal creative stagnation, the feeling she poured into those lyrics eventually became the key to breaking out of it, and the album that grew out of it is full of the joy of artistic rebirth.
After 2018's inward-looking and relatively stripped-back High as Hope, Florence and the Machine's latest release, Dance Fever (★★★★☆) finds Welch and her band embracing a beautifully baroque grandiosity.
For more than 10 years, Emeli Sandé has been charming audiences all around the world with her signature blend of pop, R&B, and adult contemporary sounds, but nowhere is she more popular than in her home country of the U.K.
The singer, songwriter, producer, and piano player typically spaces out her releases to let the art breathe, and now she’s preparing to return with what will surely be another excellent body of work.
Ahead of the release of her new album Let's Say for Instance (coming May 6), read on to learn five things you should know about Ms. Sandé.
1. She’s Been A Star In The U.K. For A Decade
"This is a huge project," says Hugo Medrano, producing artistic director of GALA, of the Spanish adaptation of On Your Feet! La Historia de Emilio y Gloria Estefan: En Español!, the high-profile Broadway jukebox musical about Gloria and Emilio Estefan.
The show follows in the same footsteps as GALA's Spanish-language adaptation of In The Heights. That production, directed and choreographed by Luis Salgado, who returns for On Your Feet, became a massive hit for the company, sweeping the 2018 Helen Hayes Awards, including wins for Outstanding Production, Ensemble, Direction, and Choreography.
These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and MetroWeekly.com remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!