It seems former Mousekateer Christina Aguilera has finally popped right out of her bottle. On her second proper studio album Stripped, Aguilera purports to reveal “the real” Christina but if this is the real her then it’s anything but “stripped.” Lacquered in so much gloss and pretense, Stripped is more an event than an album. From its breathy interludes to the rock-R&B hybrid “Fighter,” Stripped is so overproduced and overwrought that it could easily pass for a Janet album. Its 20 tracks are weighed down by inspirational power-vocal-pushing ballads like “The Voice Within,” produced by studio svengali Glen Ballard, and the epic “Keep on Singin’ My Song,” which inexplicably breaks into a drum-n-bass-meets-gospel climax. Despite all the high drama, though, Aguilera proves her point: she is not Britney Spears—and that might be all it takes to transcend the dreaded sophomore slump. She shines on torchy ballads like “Loving Me 4 Me” and “Walk Away,” displaying a sultry lower range and clever use of metaphor: “Your love was like candy/Artificially sweet, I was deceived by your wrapping.” The hip-hop-scorched “Dirrty” is the most instantly gratifying of the bunch (unfortunately it’s the only one of its kind on Stripped) but it’s Aguilera’s collaborations with former Non-Blonde Linda Perry that find the singer truly naked. Perry allegedly put her foot down on the Mariah-esque vocal tics, using Aguilera’s original scratch vocal for the poignant “Beautiful,” while garage rocker “Make Over” finds the singer at her most uncontrived. And though its bruises pale in comparison to the punch of Madonna’s “Oh Father,” the Perry-produced “I’m OK,” in which Aguilera recounts her father’s abuse, is one of the singer’s most restrained performances to date.
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