Liberation, Christina Aguilera’s first album in six years, is a journey through self-rediscovery and freedom. Featuring production from Kanye West, Mike Dean, and Che Pope, and guest spots from the likes of Demi Lovato, GoldLink, and Ty Dolla $ign, Liberation is Xtina’s most sonically daring and cohesive album to date.
The real success of Liberation is its consistency despite the eclectic and seemingly endless list of collaborators. The album begins with an orchestral intro, composed by Oscar-nominated Nicholas Britell, that bleeds into a minute cover of “Maria” from the Sound of Music. On this short cover, Xtina’s delicate tone flutters around the notes until she pulls out her vibrato for that stunning final note. Her vocal performance here sets the tone for the record, she simultaneously sounds honest and theatrical; by telling her story she is using herself as a character to symbolize the emotional plight so many women go through with themselves and with the world. Liberation marks the latest and most mature iteration of Xtina’s feminist manifesto, which she has been cultivating since 2002’s classic Stripped.
The first two full-length songs on the album introduce a new sonic era for Christina; the sound is hard-hitting hip-hop with the soul of traditional R&B and the melodies of her pop past. Xtina has always been one to dabble in different genres, but this is by far her most authentic-sounding attempt at hip-hop and R&B. The slight growl of her voice anchors itself in the pockets of Kanye’s exquisite production on “Maria,” and the repetition and speedy vocal delivery on “Sick Of Sittin'” evoke a more electronic take on 00’s rap. Above all, the songs work because Xtina is hungry and has something to prove. She is without a doubt one of the best singers of her generation but after two consecutive middling and underperforming albums and a six-year break, she had to prove her prowess more than ever, and on Liberation she does just that. The narrative is there, a public figure muzzled by society’s standards of celebrity and her own personal struggles, but the twist is this public figure will achieve her liberation.
From there the album segues into an endearing interlude called “Dreamers,” where little girls proclaim their dreams and aspirations and goals. It’s a fitting introduction to the powerful Demi Lovato duet, “Fall In Line,” which we named one of the best 30 songs of the year so far. After this emotionally-draining yet empowering track, the album then makes the much-needed shift to more uptempo tracks. There’s the reggae-inflected “Right Moves” (with no fake accent, take notes Drake!) and the sultry R&B jam “Like I Do (feat. GoldLink).” It’s not until here that Liberation hits its first minor road bump, “Deserve” isn’t bad by any means, it’s simply alright. Thankfully, Xtina recovers with the vocal highlight of the album “Twice.” “Twice” is the single most vocally impressive moment on Liberation because Xtina demonstrates some of the best control and intonation of her career on the track. From here a gospel-influenced interlude leads to the final section of Liberation.
“Accelerate” is still as fresh and fun as when it was first released, but it’s got nothing on the incredibly sexy Quiet Storm-esque, “Pipe.” These two songs represent the two sonic pillars of the album, the former is gritty rap track where Xtina switches between rap-singing and belting and the latter is a soulful and suggestive track that feels straight out of the 90s. Finally, the album closes with the belty “Masochist” and the instant classic ballad, “Unless It’s With You.”
Liberation sounds like the album that Xtina was born to make. With less emphasis on vocal acrobatics and more emphasis on creating an unequivocally great and cohesive body of work, Xtina has triumphed.
Key Tracks: “Maria,” “Pipe,” “Unless It’s With You”