The last decade hasn’t been kind to Christina Aguilera. Her most recent albums, Bionic (2010) and Lotus (2012), were commercial failures, either too experimental or too on the nose. Her stint on the US version of The Voice kept her profile alive but creatively suffocated her. Despite her tenacity, her position as one of pop’s peak divas was crumbling.
But with Liberation, Aguilera is at her most artistically emancipated since Stripped (2002). The Jackson 5-sampling Maria, produced by Kanye West, blasts her near decade-long identity crisis, while Sick of Sittin’ is as thrillingly acerbic as 2002’s Fighter. Fall in Line, a screech-off with fellow vocal acrobat Demi Lovato, is loud but surprisingly rousing, as is the typically Aguileran ballad Twice – although multiple interludes begin to feel tedious.
Unable to resist languorous ballads, Aguilera mars proceedings with Masochist and Unless it’s With You – but it’s in the fearless incubation of understated R&B that she excels, sparingly pushing her voice for texture rather than power. Unexpected gummy synths propel Accelerate, the Anderson .Paak-produced Like I Do (featuring Goldlink) is effervescently vibey, and Deserve is Aguilera at her most anguished. It’s tricky to ascertain the true extent of Aguilera’s newfound freedom, but she’s giving it one hell of a go.