Glitter may have been, in its better moments, a Make Me Pretty Barbie version of a camp classic, but there’s no denying it yielded one of the most satisfying, or at least one of the most in-its-own-skin, albums in its star—and, until Precious, not-actress—Mariah Carey’s entire canon. Producing a collection of post-disco boogie remakes and recreations allowed her the chance to reconstruct her own musical childhood by playing the adult she then, no doubt, pictured herself becoming when she grew up.
I haven’t been subjected to Christina Aguilera’s $55-million Bawd-way musical just yet, but the soundtrack seems to indicate her efforts are coming from a similarly era-straddling psychological place. Like Glitter, Burlesque is about a talented girl’s inevitable and not entirely self-started journey toward stardom. Only success here isn’t measured by 12-inch extended mixes, but rather 36-24-36 measurements. Christina’s fantasy scenario has her learning the velvet ropes of old-fashioned striptease at the Burlesque Lounge, where she toils away as a cocktail waitress. But what’s a Mae West trapped in a Pia Zadora body to do? Open up her throat and growl her way up to that stage like a busty grizzly bear, of course.
Excepting the Diane Warren-penned ballad obligatorily—or contractually—tossed to co-star Cher, the Burlesque soundtrack is knowingly antiquated, about two parts Kander and Ebb to every one part Christopher Stewart, which is an appropriate fit for a grown-up Mouseketeer who apparently came across Liza Minnelli’s performance in Cabaret at a particularly formative moment in her development and has been itching to get her gitchy-gitchy-ya-ya on for the last decade now. Understandably enthusiastic, Aguilera invariably opens most of her songs with soulful howls up and down the register before the backup band kicks in with all that jazz, a centralizing effect that generally works better on the new material than it does whenever Aguilera tackles standards.
That said, you can’t deny that her brassy, raw versions of Etta James’s “Tough Lover” and Mae West’s—and later Marlene Dietrich’s—“A Guy What Takes His Time” lack enough subtlety to properly qualify as burlesque. (And if they didn’t, she repeats the word “burlesque” often enough during the album’s 32 minutes that you’ll end up giving her the benefit of the doubt.) But there’s way more fission from the numbers that recast her as a bionic Lady Marmalade: the nasty, buzzing bump-and-grind “Express” and a truly bizarre BPM cover of Marilyn Manson’s “The Beautiful People” that even Baz Luhrmann may have suggested was a little much. I sincerely hope it gets a polished, choreographed number in the film, and isn’t just consigned to the closing credits.