Posts Tagged ‘hilarious’

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Christina Aguilera – Bionic. (album review)

June 14, 2010

As you can tell from my current blog layout, I am very much feeling the imagery of Christina Aguilera’s current Bionic era.  It’s fierce, severe and pushes the envelope.  Artwork such as the front cover (above) and other graffiti-inspired cyborg manipulations handled by D*Face push the envelope and also serve to symbolise Christina as human machine which creates fine music hence “Bionic”.  Various analyses of this robotic imagery could be and have been made: on the one hand, Christina Aguilera in her superhuman form triumphs over all her competitors and makes superior , near-perfect music because she has this bionic element to her; on the other hand, as part-robot, Christina can only ever produce a facsimile of what music is supposed to be, while never quite getting close enough to the organic, human qualities in music that elevate it beyond the calculable – qualities which cannot be quantified or mechanised.  In Bionic, as in life, the truth lies somewhere between these two opinions.

Bionic the album is a long listen – 18 tracks in its standard version, 23 in its deluxe (with iTunes bonus track “Little Dreamer”, a likeable but throwaway confection, making a grand total of 24).  I’ll dispense with the additional 5 bonus tracks first: they are, by and large, bonus tracks for a reason: either they are not strong enough to be considered for the main album (“Monday Morning” is pleasant but lackadaisical; “Birds Of Prey” is lyrically mysterious and interesting, but musically and vocally it’s too much mainstream dance that Kelis would do a lot better with on her current Flesh Tone project), or they don’t fit thematically with the empowering / sexual / carefree / mature feel of the album.  “Bobblehead” is a thrilling production that stutters and races to its climax with the wonderful lyric: “I never play dumb to get what I want / and always come out the one that’s on top”; however, its main hook is a nonsensical mumble that may be the point of the lyrics, dissing idiot girls who dumb themselves down and preferring to deploy her own intelligence, but it’s still a nonsensical mumble which fails to use Christina’s vocals to much effect.  “Stronger Than Ever” is a ballad that is lyrically strong (and embodies my current struggle with my parents) and vocally able, but it just lacks that something.  “I Am (Stripped)” is a lovely album closer but is a more acoustic version of one of the main album tracks, and so it’s understandable why it’s relegated to bonus status.

So, to the main event. To my ear, Bionic moves in three arcs.  In its first, it goes for the jugular with relentless, futuristic uptempos; it then cools down into a sensuous, emotionally vulnerable, mature ballad section; finally, it picks up again for a closing triad of uptempo songs that epitomise fun.  While it’s possible that the album could be trimmed down to make a more concise, compelling listen, it flows very nicely throughout and only has a couple of stumbling points.  Christina Aguilera said that she wanted something which sounded futuristic, but with elements of the organic; something which integrated her new emotional maturity as a mother with her desire to remain playful and sexy.  On this point, she has succeeded: Bionic has elements of all of this.  Tracks such as “Bionic” and “Elastic Love” incorporate computerised effects to distort Christina’s voice, along with buzzing, whirring productions that sonically embody the bionic cyborg face of her album cover. However, on tracks such as standout “You Lost Me” and “All I Need”, Christina is stripped of the musical gloss of the faster tracks to be backed by little more than a piano.  “All I Need” is also a touching, mature tribute to her son, which nicely avoids being mawkish or saccharine like Britney Spears’ unlistenable “My Baby” from Circus.  Finally, sex is all over this album, and from the enticing “Woohoo” to the seductive “Sex For Breakfast” (which I have yet to play for my boyfriend, but when I next see him in July, I am using this song on him!), it’s explicit without being pornographic, edgy without crossing that line.  In this respect, the Christina Aguilera of “Dirrty” is still present, knowing how to be provocative while still being musically relevant.

However, in the video for “Not Myself Tonight”, Xtina makes her return and perhaps pushes the envelope a little too far.  S&M get-ups, Madonna tributes aplenty, and bisexual flirtations are almost par for the course at this point, and Christina Aguilera is more than entitled to use them considering her influence on current female artists in the mainstream over the past 10 years.*  However, although “Not Myself Tonight” is an understandable choice as Bionic‘s lead single considering its radio-friendly sound, it’s not futuristic and it’s not exciting enough to merit the edgy, sex-fuelled imagery.  Rather than hookless, it sounds like a bunch of hooks jostling together for attention over a dance beat (which has a couple of exciting tribal flourishes), the result of which means that sometimes the song sticks, on other listens it doesn’t quite get there.  A better first single might have been the thrilling, soaring title track, or uptempo album standout and follow-up single “Woohoo”, on which Xtina extols the virtues of good oral sex, recruits Nicki Minaj for a fine rap segment, uses her vagina (the titular “Woohoo!”) for a cowbell, and tops it off with a throbbing, buzzing dance break coda for good measure.  Along with “You Lost Me”, “Lift Me Up” and album closer “Vanity”, “Woohoo” is an album standout where all of Christina’s chemical ambitions for Bionic come together perfectly to produce some exemplary pop.

Bionic itself has no bad songs, but there is some filler: “Prima Donna” comes at the end of the first album arc of jugular-ripping uptempos, and is the weakest of them, with little lyrical know-how or production excitement to give it its own identity after the tracks preceding it.  “My Girls” is a ‘riding in the car with your top down’ sort of song, but comes off as fluffy compared to the album’s meatier offerings: although Christina proves (responding to criticisms that she oversings) that she can vocally restrain herself on songs such as “Elastic Love” with its amusing and witty stationery metaphors, and the tender “All I Need”, “My Girls” needs the vocal melisma to give it some spark; as it stands, it’s a little too laid back.  Nevertheless, 2 out of 18 songs (or 15, excluding interludes) is not bad and perhaps a better result than I was expecting.  Sure, several songs on the album are not immediate: “Glam” takes a few listens to hit its stride with its subtle, fibrillating beats and “Vogue”-esque spoken-word verses, while “Vanity” initially startles the listener with its unbridled use of the word “bitch”, references to Christina making herself “wetter” before marrying herself as her “lawfully wedded bitch” and effectively giving the finger to everyone who doesn’t have such bravado.  Only by the song’s end (and possibly a couple of repeat listens) does it sink in that the track is a storming highlight, a perfect album closer, utterly hilarious and ridiculous (and knowingly so), with a vocal flourish that knocks all competition to the floor before her son’s voice confirms all suspicions: his mother really is the shit.

At the end of the day, it’s this kind of confidence that makes Bionic a great success – Christina Aguilera believes that she rules the world, and this kind of ambition almost single-handedly propels her music to heady heights.  It’s a new page for Christina, and she’s secure enough in her ability to try different things: the mélange of styles is a little disorientating until repeated listens expose the subtleties and intricacies in her vocals, lyrics and the songs themselves.  “Lift Me Up” is another beautiful, soaring track that was slightly superior in its stripped down live version performed on the Haiti telethon, but still thrills within the album.  “I Am” is a declaration of humanity, imperfection and adulthood that lends substance to the polished sheen of Bionic‘s robotic side, deployed confidently, efficiently and effectively for example on clubsong “Desnúdate” (which neatly remembers and includes Christina’s Spanish-speaking audience and heritage).  If Christina experiments with textures in her voice, sometimes preferring subdued rumbles to soaring melismas, she still shows that she can do both better than most other female artists.  At the end of the day, Christina Aguilera is an musical artist with a personal and professional vision that she fulfils 85% of the time.  Her misfires are excusable and never in poor taste so much as merely a little bland or inconsistent – in time, Christina will learn to totally excise these from her projects.  Most importantly, while some of Bionic indeed caters to current mainstream tastes and is hardly an obscure sonic revelation, the majority of it is interesting and thrilling, and rings true as Christina Aguilera’s own personality and intention which doesn’t give a fuck about current radio trends (in my opinion, less than half of Bionic would get spins on mainstream radio).  For this, her sales might suffer, but her artistic integrity remains intact and hopefully the mainstream radio audiences and buying public one day will catch up.

* I’ll address this once and only once: anyone who thinks that Christina Aguilera is copying Lady GaGa is a) suffering from memory loss and should go back to Christina Aguilera’s last two album eras which were mired with controversy and blazed with exciting fashions and imagery, b) suffering from hearing loss as Christina can sing GaGa – and pretty much anyone else – under the table, c) has no respect for what Aguilera has achieved over the past 10 years – while GaGa has had a fantastic 2-year run and displays much potential (her music and videos are definitely getting more intriguing), she’s still only been around 2 years and more respect should be shown to anyone who successfully completes a decade in the music industry, and d) completely overlooking Gwen Stefani, whose hairstyle Christina mimics in her “Not Myself Tonight” video, and whose image, sound and career Lady GaGa has borrowed liberally from, mixed with a bunch of fashion designers, and passed off as her own to those too young, too unaware or too amnesiac to know any better.

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dream / nightmare – smurf exercise class.

February 26, 2010

I just woke up, and although I have work in a bit (I need to be dressed, teeth brushed and on the bus stop in 45 minutes, ideally), I just had to blog this dream, it’s made me feel really strange.  What’s worse is that it’s the closest thing I’ve had to a nightmare, and you will all probably think it is the most hilarious dream out of all of those that I’ve blogged.  Yet it’s left me with a really uneasy feeling… :S

I was the same age as I am now, but it was like we were back at school, and we were all in changing rooms getting changed back into our clothes after what was ostensibly a swimming lesson.   I was keeping myself to myself, but in the same changing room there was a group of 3 or 4 guys from my year group at school, one of whom was R whom I used to have a massive crush on back in the day.  Anyways, it was meant to be his birthday, and he was having some sort of party, and they were talking (the group of guys were all twats, essentially) and discussing how much they were going to drink, what they were going to do, who they were going to try and sleep with etc. I kept my head down and tried to get changed, but for some reason they were looking at me and asking why I was getting dressed so slowly, did I like being naked with them, I had no chance of anything happening, I should hurry up because I was keeping them all waiting.  I was getting changed as quickly as I could, but when I looked up, they were all dressed and suddenly a teacher came in and informed us that if we didn’t hurry up, the last 6 people might not be able to fit on the bus as there was limited space.

After that, I remember some sort of classroom game, but only vaguely.  What happened next was that my school colleagues appeared to vanish, and were swiftly replaced by the people on my careers guidance course at uni.  Our tutor, Mary, came out and split us into our two practice groups (which is how we’re split up for quite a few of the activities on the course) and told us to go outside, where we’d receive details of the task we would have to prepare.  We all crowded outside, a lot of people were chattering excitedly but I was feeling somewhat melancholy after my earlier experience, so I was still quiet.  Outside it was a replica of my patio at home, but a lot larger in order to be able to fit 23 people sitting around the edge.  Mary stood in the middle and told us that one member from each group had to be a Smurf and entertain a group of youngsters while also doing some sort of exercise instruction class.  I was immediately horrified, while several members of the group laughed.  Then Mary announced that she had chosen one person from each of the two groups to perform this task, while everyone else was going to role-play being the children and watch in the audience.  I don’t remember who she chose from the other group, but from my group she chose me.

I was mortified, and I sat still as the group became more excitable.  I wandered around the outside of the patio trying to evade the task, but the group of my friends started heckling me and told me to be a good sport and have a go.  I was so uncomfortable, I didn’t want to dress as a Smurf, and I didn’t want to expose my body. I didn’t want anyone to laugh at me. Plus, it was also a ridiculously stupid activity, and would be of no value to the kids, and I don’t know why Mary would have selected people (let alone me) as normally she would let us come to a democratic decision. So this made me feel pretty upset, and as I stood in front of the group of my friends, I had to fight back tears, and I started to dance awkwardly before abruptly stopping and pleading with someone to swap with me.  Mike got up and stood next to me and put his arm round me and told me it was going to be alright, that it was just a bit of fun and not to take things so personally.  I felt a little better for that, but I still really didn’t want to be a Smurf. I asked if someone would please swap with me, but the group was too busy talking and laughing, or watching the other group’s Smurf, to really pay attention.  Finally, my friends started paying attention to me, and I repeated the idea of swapping out of being a Smurf, since I didn’t feel up to it. My friends started going “aww” and “it’s only fun!”, but then I realised that Mike was volunteering to swap with me.  I was not happy about this, because I would have liked to sit and gossip with Mike (as we usually do), but since he was the volunteer essentially saving me from a fate of wearing a nappy and being giant and blue, I let him take over and sat in the corner.  Immediately, Clare put her arm around me and told me not to worry and just to relax and enjoy myself, but I felt somewhat disappointed in myself that I didn’t have the strength to perform a task I had been chosen for.  I looked up and was again horrified by what I saw: Although Mike’s face was normal, he was now stripped to his underwear, grinding while my group were all heckling, laughing, whooping, trying to reach out and touch his body which was ridiculously thin, muscled and tanned to a deep bronze like that of a body builder (but slim) – in reality, I have not seen Mike naked but I am quite confident his body is not like this! I was horrified and as Clare and some of the women in the group started to grope his underwear (which seemingly fell away), I began to cry with embarrassment that I had been chosen for such a task, that I couldn’t do it, that Mike had had to save me and yet was enjoying being naked and playing the clown in front of the group (which I thought was utterly humiliating and sorta disgustingly prurient), and then I woke up.

Very bizarre. 😦