Looking at the liner notes for Stripped, one can’t help but notice Christina Aguilera and her handlers have assembled a list of music industry luminaries. (It’s also hard to ignore the, um, photography, but that’s another story altogether). With the likes of Alicia Keys, The Roots drummer Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson and Redman assisting, and production by Scott Storch, one would think Stripped would be a more accomplished effort than her self-titled debut.
There are numerous ballads on the album, all sounding way too similar to be memorable. Each is a terribly conceited, self-affirming track that tries to be uplifting. Alicia Keys plays piano on “Impossible.” Unfortunately, it sounds like an Alicia Keys song with Aguilera singing. “Walk Away,” “Cruz,” “The Voice Within,” and “I’m OK” are disparagingly similar, and since many of them are grouped at the end of the album, they end up sounding like one annoyingly long slow song. And ?uestlove’s spirited drumming at the end of “Keep On Singin’ My Song” almost saves the song.
On “Make Over,” Aguilera does nothing but come off as a Britney Spears clone, singing high school lines like “Everybody’s always trying to look me over/I just wanna live simple and free.” It’s better than anything Spears has ever done, with a very danceable backbeat, but her screaming over the chorus is horrid. It’s not as if Aguilera has a bad voice; she can sound like she swallowed a 40-year-old black lady when she wants to. But instead of letting her voice do the work, she puts on this pop star pose, which makes her voice sound forced
?uestlove delivers outstanding percussion on “Loving Me 4 Me,” the best song on the album. This song is reminiscent of some of Janet Jackson’s mid-’90s work: mellow and well-arranged. The song is thoroughly entertaining, only marred by a self-centered “poem” at the end. Again, Aguilera needs to stick to the singing.
The main reason this album is ultimately unsatisfying is its length. There are few acts that deserve an album 77 minutes and 48 seconds long, and none of them is named Christina Aguilera. It’s doubtful her intended adolescent market has the attention span to listen to this disc in its entirety. If this album was half as long, it would be twice as good.
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