Posts Tagged ‘humanity’

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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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edgier.

December 10, 2009

Having been on my new university course for 3 months now, and having made some really close friends who are generally a few years older than me (my closest friends on the course are 33 and 35), I’ve really been able to see how far I’ve come as a person.

Looking back at myself even 4 months ago when I had only started writing this blog, I knew myself, but myself was unsure and nervous.  I felt as if I was in a rut professionally after graduating with a good degree from a prestigious university, personally I had had “friends” who turned out not to be friends at all slander me and accuse me of things (theft, bullying) that I had and have never done, and would never do in a million years.  I took it all on the chin and just had faith that things would get better, but I knew in my heart that I didn’t know what would happen.  Would this careers guidance course be the right decision for me?  What was going to happen to me?  Had I peaked already in my life?

The answer to that last question, now I see, is an emphatic NO! Obviously I was only 23 (now 24) and to paint myself as an underdog who had it all and then lost it was more than a little unfair to myself.  I now know that I have so much going for me, so much to offer, and I am not an ugly or stupid person no matter how much certain people may endeavour to make me feel that about myself.  I deserve the best, and with this new qualification, new friends who seem to value me for me from the jump, and new confidence, I feel that I can get the best.  Once again, I’m back on track, and more than anything I’m so relieved.  I may paint myself as confident and assertive – and I am those things – but underneath I still get nervous and insecure.  Now, I finally see that I really am worth more.

I guess it’s a part of natural evolution.  I’ve grown up a lot, and although it took pointing out, I am older than my years.  I don’t feel out of place hanging out with 30-year-olds, because we have the same mentality and experiences.  People generally have trouble guessing my age (I still get ID’d for buying cigarettes on the one hand – which makes Mike LOL and envious at the same time!; on the other hand, a couple of people on my course originally thought I was late 20s because of the fact I can articulate myself and hold my own in discussions), but although I may tease my colleagues at university about receding hairlines, wrinkles and old age, I don’t feel any difference between us.  Aaliyah really had it right – age ain’t nothin’ but a number.  Usually it correlates to maturity, but not always.  At the end of the day, people are people, and we are all human.

These are things that I already knew to be true, but having them held up in front of me has forced me to accept these things as positives about myself.  It’s finally really sinking in.  And the truth of who I am as a man, as a human being, is finally coming out.  This is what I wanted to write about really, but it took the backstory above to get there! (Sorry… but I always give you the main course – no snacks here!)  I thought that I was an adult after university (by which I mean my undergraduate degree at Oxford), but it took me a bit longer.  Working at the Perfume Shop gave me a taste of the hard grind, working for not enough money and being treated like I didn’t have a brain (the saving grace was superficially decent friendships and getting to work with fragrance and deepen my knowledge of it).  My newer job at the hospital has made me see how people can be valued in their work, both monetarily and in terms of being treated like an intelligent human being.  My new course at university has helped me see what I really want to do, and now having that thrust forward has completed me and erased some of my doubts (not all, but some is certainly a step forward) about my future and my life’s purpose.

As things around me have been moving in the right direction, so I’ve been able to spread my wings and become more of who I am.  I love smoking – I’m not a moron and I know it’s not good for my health nor my voice, but I enjoy the feeling from it, the fact it kills time, and the socialising aspect of it – I think it goes hand in hand with being confident and conversational, as you often get approached by people who want a light / spare fag, and you end up conversing with strangers because you share an appreciation of nicotine!  In turn, smoking has reduced my hunger (allowing me to stick to my no-evening-snacking policy) and I’ve dropped a waist size – people at uni have christened me “good looking”, “pretty boy” and lots of other complimentary things referencing both my physical looks and my fashion style. I feel more confident in and out of my clothes – although I’m such a perfectionist that I’ll never be satisfied!  But looking at my vanity and my past issues with my own body and self-esteem, I’ve come a long way.  I feel happier in my skin physically as well as emotionally – and I’m feeling more confident to express the edgier, darker sides of myself which set me apart from others.

After years of deliberation, changing my mind and refining my ideas, I’m finally set on getting tattoos!  One is a stylised A, which you can see here; the other will be above my left collarbone mirroring it, and will be a gun.  I’ve been inspired by Rihanna‘s gun tattoo, but I want it because to me a gun is a symbol of strength and power, of aggression and conflict, of edginess and darkness.  These are all things that I embody – I am tougher than some people initially assume, and I want an emblem of that grit and fire.  I feel it’s applicable to me, and also quite exciting and sexy.  And whereas before I might have balked at the permanence of a tattoo like that, now I feel mature and comfortable enough in myself to be able to wear it and pull it off.  This is me – maybe I’m a good boy gone bad, but I still have a good heart; I have just spent too long in my life pleasing others, and now I’ve finally lunged for myself with this course and am reaping the rewards much more than I ever did listening to other people’s opinions on what was best for me, I believe in my own capacity to make decisions.  I’m not an angel, I’m not a good boy, and I’m tired of portraying that.  I am me and I have a good heart and an intelligent mind, but sometimes I enjoy being provocative or sexy or pushing the boundaries.  That is just as valid a part of me, and my new friendships embrace that part of me too and love me for it.  My infatuation with a married man who has become my best friend and is actively ok with my affection and flirting and actively returns it has been a revelation to me.  We understand each other, we can control our affections (he feels the same way about someone else) and be mature adults, but we also have fun with it – we accept each other and I never felt so comfortable to be able to be so emotionally honest with someone I knew would accept me for who I am. From him I learned what it is to be a good father, a good husband, a good man, and also that whatever I’m feeling, I am a rational person and I should never feel guilty for my feelings.  I should never feel stupid, and the sign of a good friendship is being able to admit how you’re feeling and that other person accepting you for it and not telling you it’s wrong or silly.  Again, these are things I superficially knew, but feeling and living them is a whole other revelation.  I hope that my friends can one day think of me in the same way.

So my embracing my dark side instead of being afraid of it; my becoming edgier is a natural emancipation, a natural evolution of me.  I am free to be who I am, and I am proud of who I am.  I’ve felt ashamed, even in small doses, for too long.  It took a long time to get here, and I’m sure in the future I will still make mistakes and waver, but hopefully I can come back and read this post and remember my feelings right now, and that’ll keep me going.  Once a good boy goes bad, we’re gone forever – but I wish I’d gone sooner and I look forward to where I’m going and whom I’m going with.

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10 things.

August 22, 2009

Since I don’t really know what to write, and I’ve had a pretty uneventful day (that’s what happens when you spend most of it on the sofa – I think my fatigue is nearly gone though 😀 ), I thought I would just make a quick list of 10 thoughts or things that I haven’t necessarily learned today, but that have returned to mind or made themselves evident today.

1.  Apparently, my mother standing on my laptop is appropriate recompense for my threatening to take a picture of her.

2.  My father has an intense and somewhat irrational dislike of Eminem and the Black Eyed Peas.

3.  Good films on dvd never go on sale quickly enough.

4.  Your hometown is the best, most comforting place when you’re somewhere else.  As soon as you’re back there, it’s claustrophobic and overly familiar, and you want to break out all over again.

5.  According to the return of X Factor and the continuation of Big Brother, reality tv makes the world go round.  Not only is it recession-friendly, but it somehow hypnotises 95% of the population and destroys their remaining brain cells.  Am I really the only one who finds those kinds of programmes irredeemably tacky???

6.  There are not enough sexy men in my life.

7.  Everyone must have come back from summer holidays because suddenly my blog is getting lots of views again like it used to! (There was a two-week lull.)  Thanks y’all 🙂

8.  As much as we chastise celebrity fragrances for being tacky, not realising that Armani, Gucci, Ralph Lauren and lots of other brands pay perfumers to manufacture perfumes for their brands in the exact same way and with the exact same lack of input, I still want to buy myself a new bottle of Britney Spears Curious.

9.  Beyoncé has the power to make my father’s voice (and his criticisms and jokes) inaudible to my ears.

10.  Fashions may change, the world may evolve and people may be born, live and die each day, but love will always remain one of the constant cruxes of the human race.