The 2010s have been an uncertain decade for Christina Aguilera. The first ten years of her career saw her shapeshift from Delia’s catalog realness to her provocative “Xtina” persona to drama-club queen bee and back. But she kicked off the current decade by covering Marilyn Monroe and reinterpreting Marilyn Manson for Burlesque, one of the campiest pop-star vehicles this side of Glitter. Her most recent album, 2012’s Lotus, was a non-starter featuring two of her fellow coaches of “The Voice,” Cee-Lo Green (pre-date rape allegations) and Blake Shelton. (She’d already reached No. 1 with the fourth member of their inaugural cohort, Adam Levine, thanks to her guest appearance on Maroon 5’s 2010 hit “Moves Like Jagger.”) Lotus was supposed to be a rebirth, but it faltered. Entertainment Weekly called its first-week sales “the sad trombone at the end of [Aguilera’s] comeback.”
The rollout of her eighth album, Liberation, suggests she’s done selling anything that doesn’t fit into her true vision of herself: She posed without makeup on the cover of Paper magazine, and her cover art is similarly stripped down. And the album is, at the very least, a reminder that—holy shit—she can sing. As contemporary radio continues to favor lighter vocal performances from artists like Halsey and Charlie Puth, Aguilera’s powerhouse voice remains the nucleus of her sound, even when she’s tinkering with trap tropes and try-hard slang.
Are those moments a total bummer? Absolutely. “Pipe” includes lyrics like, “I just left a lituation popping by the High Line/Walked in, no list, fuck a go sign,” and, “Got a couple secrets that I’d really love to see if you could keep/Damn, boy, you remind me of my Jeep.” In 2018, “lituation” is a word for children and the cast of “Jersey Shore,” and R. Kelly references belong only in a trash compactor. The album’s Kanye West-produced lead single, “Accelerate,” is equally unconvincing; crackly vocals from the usually hefty-voiced Ty Dolla $ign do it no favors.