Christina Aguilera: Stripped Album Review

Christina Aguilera: Stripped Album Review

220px-Christina_Aguilera_-_Stripped

Score: 67/100

Top 3 Tracks: Beautiful, Walk Away, I’m OK

Can’t Hold Us Down: 6/10

I like the hip hop beat for Aguilera’s voice and having Lil’ Kim on the track elevates it a little above average. For me, it’s a little too slow in tempo and it has a flawed message. I’m all for girl empowerment anthems, but not at the expense of putting down and shaming the man. By trying to build herself up, she insults the other party, which doesn’t help. That’s flawed feminism. 

Walk Away: 9/10

Honestly, one of her best songs to date.  With the brooding and haunting piano, it’s a song that sounds sexy without being overly sexual. It’s  one of the melodies that really sticks in my head after listening to the album. God, her lower register is insanely sexy and mesmerizing, and she shows phenomenal restraint while also showcasing her vocal. Great companion to “Fighter.”

Fighter: 10/10

This is an empowerment anthem done right. It excels in nearly all the ways that “Can’t Hold Us” failed. The beautiful piano and the way it builds into the rock vibe. It’s also a surprise for any listener as it’s a different sound from anything she had on her debut. It’s crisp, clean, focused and a song only Xtina can do justice to.

Infatuation: 5/10

I never felt Aguilera as a Latin artist. Sometimes I think she pulls out the Spanish stuff when she has nothing else to add. “Infatuation” is in the vein of pop girl songs where Momma clearly warned me not to go out with this guy, but I’mma do what I want, Moms. Re: Rihanna’s “There’s a Thug in my Life” and Britney’s “Criminal.” The “pure infatuation” chorus is catchy and the speed and precision with which she sings the verses is impressive, but underneath it all, its bare bones feels very generic teen pop. It even has a flamengo break-down in the middle. Not my fave on the album, she oversings it a bit too much in the end and despite being the only Latin-infused track, it doesn’t stand out.

Loving Me 4 Me: 6/10

A slowed-down R&B track that is sultry, jazzy and cool. It’s a nice calm-down after the exhausting “Infatuation.” I’m not a big fan of the high notes in the chorus, though Aguilera pulls them off with ease, and I don’t like the talking at the end. It sounds too reminscient of the “Stripped Intro” and we already have two of those. “Loving Me 4 Me” is an overly sentimental love song with Aguilera proclaiming she loves her man because he simply loves her for her and doesn’t care that she has lots of money or is a star.  It’s Aguilera once again saying that people should look beyond her image and see her for just who she is.

Impossible: 8/10

Aguilera doesn’t linger too long on the romance bit as “Impossible” throws us back into the angst of  her tragic love life. The feeling of a demo session is a good idea, in keeping with the raw/stripped ideal of the album. Keys and Aguilera go well together as artists, though as confidantes, I’m not sure I buy it. “Impossible” is a very Keys-ish song, but that shouldn’t bug fans. It’s a great collaboration and plays to each artist’s strengths.  The track is a singer’s song, coming in at just the right length and not feeling too drawn out like other similar ballads on the album.

Underappreciated: 7/10

“Can’t Hold Us Down’s” classier and more subdued cousin. I would have scrapped CHUD and replaced it with this song. Thematically, they’re nearly identical — the man does everything wrong and sisters got to do it for themselves — but “Underappreciated” is the better, lyrically and musically.  The problem is that it lacks power and punch. The chorus could have come across stronger and madder. Instead, it just sits at mid-level and never really goes anywhere. Overall, it ends up falling flat and fails to make the impression it could. So close.

Beautiful: 10/10

Should have been the lead single, hands down. Christina made a mistake pushing for Dirrty because this track would have represented the album a lot better, but I’ll get to that in the conclusion. The song is lovely, understated and just sends chills down your spine. Linda Perry, as producer and writer, expertly reins in the diva’s powerhouse vocals, making the melody soar rather than being beaten down into submission. Is it schmaltzy and cliche? Yeah, especially today when radio is saturated with everyone’s “Beautiful’s” But I think Aguilera’s will stand out above the rest simply because her voice doesn’t let the song get drowned in its own sentiment. And I give my props to her. Aguilera did something that Britney had failed to do — namely, turn the attention away from empowering herself and onto empowering others.  I’m glad that this is what’s remembered the most from the Stripped era.

Makeover: 6/10

Perry continues her work with Christina by fitting her into a song that is so many things at once. It’s salsa, garage-rock, surf-guitar, Aguilera trying to sound like other tough chicks like Pink and Avril Lavigne. She may have the vocal chops to scream that short chorus, but she doesn’t have the attitude that Pink and Avril could bring to it. It gets a little exhausting towards the end and the instrumental just gets too repetitive. But kudos to Perry for getting Aguilera to sing “bullshit.”

Cruz: 8/10

From the title I expected more of a hip-hop feel like CHUD, but I definitely don’t hate its 70’s soul rock ballad. I love how it just reaches that height in the last half with the key change. Given to any other singer, I think the song would have failed, but with Aguilera’s vocals, it reaches some pretty impressive heights. My only negative is that it stopped the momentum the album was gaining with the previous track, but even that isn’t so bad simply because “Cruz” is so much better than “Makeover.” Great road-trip type song.

Soar: 5/10

 By itself, “Soar” isn’t that bad, but stuffed into the middle half of the album, it gets lost. It sounds too similar melodically to “Cruz,” and it’s too lyrically similar to “Beautiful” and both those tracks did those things better than “Soar.” The message is great, but there are better empowerment songs on the album and this one just doesn’t grab me. Fans don’t need a gospel type song to showcase Aguilera’s vocals. We know the girl can sing and “Soar” seems like its only purpose is to prove that. By this point in Stripped, songs start sounding too similar in all areas and the album is starting to slog.

Get Mine Get Yours: 9/10

This is more like it. After song after song of empowerment and freedom, Christina gets into the “dirrty” part of the album. Think of this one as “When You Put Your Hands on Me” but all grown-up. I love that catchy-as-hell chorus and I like the edge in the lyrics — “work me like a 9 to 5/it ain’t about the kissin’ and huggin’/straight sweatin’/our bodies are rubbin.” It was definitely a big risk for Xtina to sing this kind of song at the time. She’s upfront and bold about sex and wanting it — there is no “Genie in a Bottle” innuendo about it — but she doesn’t come across as too trashy.  I’m not a big fan of the bridge, but other than that, the song is fun, sexy and naughty.

Dirrty: 5/10

 Here we go — unpopular opinion and I’m probably going to get hated by Fighters, but “Dirrty” is the worst song of Stripped, Aguilera’s career and, for me, ever.

At least hear me out because while I think “Dirrty” is the worst song, that doesn’t make me dislike Stripped. It’s not cause of the raunchy subject matter, I don’t mind that. I’m not a prude. I just gushed about how much I love “Get Mine, Get Yours” and that’s just as naughty.  Sometimes, particularly on this track, Aguilera comes across as trying too hard to be dirty. Whether that’s from the video or her image or the song itself, I can’t say, but I don’t buy her as an inherently dirty girl. I didn’t buy it with Bionic and I don’t buy it here. It just doesn’t work with her. But ultimately, what does it in for me is that this song had a lot of potential — the raucous party feeling to it, the “ladies, move/gentlemen move” bridge. Heck,  the whole beginning of the song sounds great. But then Redman comes in and the melody comes in and it just all quickly goes to hell. There’s no rhythm, no beat, the tempo is way too slow for a party song, and Redman is constantly trying to shout over Aguilera, who’s already screaming loud enough. This is a mess of a song and it just gets exhausting by the end of it. It’s not a fun song — it’s loud and obnoxious, two things I don’t want to associate Christina with. Maybe I would have liked it more if it hadn’t been the lead single, but the fact of the matter is, it was and it was a terrible choice. I hated this song when it came out and I hate it everytime I hear it. I hate “Dirrty.” Truthfully, “Get Mine, Get Yours” does everything right that “Dirrty” does wrong.

The Voice Within: 7/10

Whoa, there! A person can get whiplash from that type of transition. Like “Beautiful,” “The Voice Within” gets marred down by its sentimentality and cliches. But I do love this song. I love the melody, especially on the verses, where it  just feels so lullaby-like. The song gets lost and bogged down in the bridge where the strings, choir and Aguilera are all trying to one-up each other. At the very least though, “Voice Within,” like any good Christina ballad, is powerful.

I’m OK: 9/10

 Oh, right in the feels. This is such a brooding, mellow, sad and harrowing song. Here is where I feel that Christina truly does get stripped for me and it’s unfortunate that it had to come at the tail end of an overly long album. If I could only choose one song to represent what Stripped is, this is it. It has emotional rawness, vulnerability, powerful lyrics, and not to mention impressive vocal restraint from Aguilera. It’s all of the best qualities of Stripped wrapped up in one beautiful song. One of the most emotional and hard-hitting songs not just on the album, but in Xtina’s repertoire.

Keep on Singing My Song: 4/10

 The album should have ended on the emotional throat punch that was “I’m OK.” I think what I don’t like most about this song is how unnecessary it is — it’s basically summing up the whole album, but it didn’t need to. First of all, “I’m OK” already did that and second,  let the album speak for itself. This wasn’t needed at all and it made Stripped end on a whimper instead of a bang. AND 6 MINUTES IS WAY TOO LONG!!

Conclusion:

Unfortunately at the time Stripped was released, it became overshadowed by Aguilera’s raunchy image makeover and the “Dirrty” video that was banned in numerous countries. Despite her insistence that she wanted the public to see past her sexual image, it couldn’t be helped when she put it front and center by releasing “Dirrty” as the lead single. That song and the album’s provocative cover do not adequately showcase what Stripped really is and you really have to get past those things to get at the heart of the album and why there are so many fans of it. It’s not about a woman having as much wild and crazy sex as she can, in fact only two songs are sexually explicit. The rest are about empowerment and emotional, creative and spiritual freedom. Any other song besides “Dirrty” would have better represented the album.

That’s not to say that it doesn’t have its flaws. Stripped suffers from just being too long. Take off the pointless interludes and that’s still 16 songs, most of which are filler or aren’t very good to begin with. Eventually, Aguilera starts repeating herself, both thematically and musically. The album would have gotten its point across and been even better if interludes had been cut and songs like “Soar,” “The Voice Within,” “Dirrty” “Can’t Hold Us Down” and “Keep on Singing My Song” would have been scrapped, or at least saved for a deluxe edition.  Some critics have said that Aguilera is given too much freedom here and doesn’t know what to do with it, but I don’t agree. Clearly, she’s still trying to find her artistic voice and style — something she’s still doing to this day. But at least she takes some risks in terms of genre and topics. She’s a decent songwriter and I’d rather have an album that she had full control over than one that was manufactured down to the last note. At the very least, when Aguilera isn’t trying too hard to be controversial, she hits it out of the park and it’s those points where the album works.

Stripped is a very good sophomore album and is not only better than her debut, but better than a lot of other albums coming out at the time. Compare this to Britney’s recent 2001 self-titled album, which  also tried all of the same things — a sexier image, a naughty lead single, themes of empowerment and freedom as an artist and a person– but Aguilera does it far better here. Whether Aguilera’s image reinvention was her own doing or simply a contrived industry decision is anyone’s guess, but Stripped feels a little more genuine in the sentiment than Britney did. Aguilera has more to say and more personality to show for it.  It’s an important album and honestly, despite its awful lead single, is one of the best of the decade.

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