The former dirty girl is long gone. That’s not because Ms Aguilera has followed Elvis’s infamously dodgy diktat whereby motherhood (she gave birth to a son in 2008) necessarily rules out all sexual expression, but because she’s no longer wearing cut-out chaps either literally or metaphorically. Her last album, 2006’s Back to Basics double disc, was a terrific mix of old-school hip hop/R&B and cabaret/show tunes, but now, the four octave-spanning chameleon has shifted shape again.
And edgy yet accessible, sexed-up, sophisto-street is (mostly) the path she’s chosen. For her fourth album, Aguilera has pulled in a raft of hip co-songwriters and producers – plus Linda Perry, who penned the Jennifer Rush-like power ballad ‘Lift Me Up’. The payroll also includes MIA, Le Tigre, Switch, Polow Da Don and Christopher ‘Tricky’ Stewart, with Ladytron, Santigold and others taking credits on the five extra tracks of the LP’s deluxe edition. Bionic is divided roughly between Aggy’s sure-handed take on electro, bassline, bashment, dirty South hip hop and synth pop – all given a tuff, futuro sheen – and piano- and strings-augmented pop balladry of an intriguingly Florence Welch-like bent.
There’s a sag around the halfway point, marked by ‘Morning Dessert’ (the girl ain’t talking pancakes here). But when she slays it, Aggy really slays it. The title track is a gritty, juddering stormer and ‘Not Myself Tonight’ an irresistible chunk of stuttering synth-house. On ‘Woohoo’ she goes ghetto in a Jamaican dancehall, while the distorted bassline and 3D sonics of ‘Elastic Love’ alone deserve a star. ‘Let’s not forget who owns the throne,’ Aggy reminds us on the tongue-in-cheek ‘Vanity’. It may not be hers alone, but she’s certainly in a very short queue.