Review Summary: Less like a comeback album for 'the Voice of a Generation' and more like just another mid-career album conceived in the wrong generation.
You know those moments when you hold off on bringing up a topic in a conversation for long enough that it becomes irrelevant to mention it？ Considering how long a new Christina Aguilera album has had 'finishing touches' laid upon its production, it is perhaps no surprise that Liberation
sounds like it'd be an album you'd have heard a few years back and thought it was hot stuff. Avid internet fans were hopeful for a new album all the way until rather suddenly news about a new album and the single "Accelerate" dropped, with its rather generic trap-influenced beats masked by esoteric production choices and a signature overtly sexual music video, you could say it quelled a bit of the initial overexcitement. It's not like Christina has been out of the game by any means, she's graced the media with her personality and dropped one-off songs for as long as she's held up on releasing a new album, but subsequent promotional songs did nothing to acknowledge her absence from the studio and the substance of the material did not speak for itself.
Lo and behold, it was as if foreshadowing for how Liberation
was going to pan out, as Christina ends up juggling her by-now-aged vocal acrobatics through a shrunken version of Stripped
, except the hop is less hip and more trap. The trap is best left to the features however, the clunky flows coming out of Christina in the aforementioned "Accelerate" being one of many distracting aspects about the album, didn't Miley Cyrus do this in 2013？ Indeed, the features on the album - aside from one - seem to provide a very satisfying contrast to Christina's presence, as songs like "Right Moves" and "Pipe" show a more playful and dynamic side to the arrangements, by virtue forcing Christina to calm down and attempt to complement the vocal performances of her guests.
By contrast, the single "Fall in Line" is emblematic of the shoddy side of the production on the more bombastic tracks, as Christina and Demi Lovato increase the intensity of their vocals they eventually become unrecognizable. In a track that done with the right dynamics would be an empowering tearjerker, the pair instead leave you to try and figure out your own meaning as you're struggling to decipher the lyrics to the race for the loudest belt. The plethora of producers undoubtedly playing part in the design-by-committee coherency of Liberation
, aside from the faux-live aesthetic of the typically empowering, borderline rock number "Sick of Sittin'", the production seems to lean heavily towards roomy trap while desperately trying to make way for the bombastic vocal performances.
As the obnoxiously Michael Jackson-sampling opening track "Maria" kicks in, there's an aching frustration that this would have sounded more comfortable in an early-to-mid-2000s style presentation, the closing track "Unless It's With You" even conjuring up Mariah Carey's The Emancipation of Mimi
style vocal arrangements. While fun enough when it's not trying to impress, Liberation
feels telegraphed enough to not be a mess in its bare-bones songwriting and flow, but ambitious enough to come off as slightly self-defeating when a very similar 'comeback' was staged over a decade ago with more stylistic sensibility. It is the pretense as if nothing had changed in eight years, but still wanting to hang with the in-crowd, that leaves Liberation
feeling less like a comeback album for 'the Voice of a Generation' and more like just another mid-career album conceived in the wrong generation.
In the context of the themes, the album title Liberation
is Christina's trademarked unchallenging message about empowerment, but for the music fan it is a perhaps unintended but nonetheless unfortunate double-entendre hinting at how long the project has been in development, most likely leaving everyone's minds about as quickly as it was promoted. While in a bubble seemingly intended to bring in a new audience to Christina's music and simultaneously maintaining a sense of artistic integrity for the fans, for the contextually aware it is the ignored talking point if someone brought it up at the end of the confab. In essence, if one already thinks everything that someone does is magic, one will find it charming, to the rest of the conference it just comes off as a bit awkward.