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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Christina Aguilera, Travie McCoy and more...
 

By GARY GRAFF
of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK

POP

Christina Aguilera

“Bionic”

RCA

★★ 1/2

A couple of funny things happened during the four years since Christina Aguilera’s last album — the horror show that’s been “Mickey Mouse Club” mate Britney Spears and the rise of Lady Gaga as the new queen of edgy dance pop and platinum blonde performance art. And keep in mind Aguilera has been pretty removed from the latter anyway, playing more Billie (Holiday) than Xtina on 2006’s “Back to Basics” and essentially creating a whopping eight-year gap since the provocative bump ‘n’ grind of “Stripped.” “Bionic” finds Aguilera getting back in the game enthusiastically but also keenly aware that the world isn’t exactly going, well, gaga for her anymore. That lends a slight flavor of unaccustomed desperation to this 18-track set as Aguilera recruits a cadre of cutting-edge collaborators to throw everything they have into reinventing her for the new decade; as she sings in the first single, “Not Myself Tonight,” “The old me’s gone, I feel brand new/If you don’t like it, (expletive) you.” Save for a five-song run of mellow ballads toward the end of the album — one written by Linda Perry and three co-written with Australian singer Sia Furler — “Bionic” is loaded with synthesizers and sequencers, spare dance beats and auto-tuned vocals designed to reclaim Aguilera’s spot on commercial pop’s cutting edge, from the title track’s whomp to the slinky eroticism of “Elastic Love” and “Desnudate,” the hip-hop slam of “Woohoo” (with Nicki Minaj) and “Glam,” the bouncy rock energy of “I Hate Boys” and the female empowerment anthem “My Girls,” which features Peaches and was produced by Le Tigre. There’s a playful tongue-in-cheekedness throughout “Bionic” that culminates in the unapologetically egocentric closing track “Vanity,” and while the album’s sheer length impairs its impact, it’s still a return to form if not necessarily to the prominence Aguilera once enjoyed.

ROCK

Travie McCoy, “Lazaraus” (Nappy Boy/Fueled By Ramen/Decaydance) ***

Gym Class Heroes frontman Travie (aka Travis) McCoy may have had his heart broken, but not his pen. The singer’s high-profile breakup with Katy Perry fueled the angst that inspires “Lazarus,” his first-ever solo album, and results in a clever and only occasionally cloying 10 songs that leap between rap, rock, reggae and R&B. The cheeky “Billionaire” with Bruno Mars is already a radio staple, with the similarly light-hearted “We’ll Be All Right” on its heels. Cee-Lo Green contributes soulful, old school verses to “Dr. Feel Good,” while T-Pain and Young Cash spit with McCoy on the energetic “The Manual.” “Superbad (11:34)” (co-produced by Limp Bizkit’s Wes Borland), “Need You” and “After Midnight (It’ll Burn)” mine McCoy’s rock side, with “Akidagain” and “Don’t Pretend,” the latter featuring blink-182’s Travis Barker, riding hip-hop flows. No one wants to see the Gym Class gang disband any time soon, but on “Lazarus” McCoy certainly rises to the solo occasion.

New & Noteworthy:

Against Me!, “White Crosses” (Sire): The Florida punk rockers return to producer Butch Vig for their fifth album, the first to feature new drummer George Rebelo from Hot Water Music.

Dierks Bentley, “Up on the Ridge” (Capitol): Bentley’s foray into bluegrass features guest appearances by Kris Kristofferson, Alison Krauss, Vince Gill, Jamey Johnson and Miranda Lambert and covers of songs by Kristofferson, U2 and Bob Dylan.

Blitzen Trapper, “Destroyer of the Void” (Sub Pop): The fifth album from the Portland indie folk-rock troupe is streaming on NPR.org if you can’t wait for its release on Tuesday.

Cast Recording, “Fela!” (Knitting Factory): This set from the hit Broadway musical is a worthy portal to the Nigerian artist’s groundbreaking work, but it’s no substitute for the original recordings, either.

The Chemical Brothers, “Further” (Freestyle Dust/Astralwerks): The British electronic rock duo’s seventh studio album comes in conjunction with corresponding films for each of its eight tracks.

Delta Spirit, “History From Below” (Rounder): The San Diego rock quintet’s second album was co-produced by My Morning Jacket keyboardist Bo Koster.

Due Voci, “Due Voci” (UMe): The vocal duo reinterprets hits by songwriter Diane Warren with help from Toni Braxton, LeAnn Rimes and Gloria Estefan.

Hanson, “Shout It Out” (3CG): “The MMMBop” brothers worked with Motown funk brother Bob Babbitt and legendary R&B horn arranger Jerry Hey on their third release for their own label.

Jewel, “Sweet and Wild” (Valory): The singer-songwriter’s second country-flavored album comes in two editions, one that includes a bonus disc of acoustic demos.

Orianthi, “Believe (II)” (Geffen): Four newly recorded tracks grace this new edition of the debut album by the Australian guitarist who was part of Michael Jackson’s This Is It band.

Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, “Grace Potter and the Nocturnals” (Hollywood): A new lineup of Potter’s Vermont-based band, pushes beyond the bluesy roots of her previous albums and into R&B and other new sonic territories.

Rooney, “Eureka” (California Dreamin’): The California power pop quartet took the reins to write and produce its entire third album.

Saving Abel, “Miss America” (Capitol): The Mississippi rockers hope their sophomore set finds fans still “Addicted” to the quintet’s mainstream-friendly sound.

Sia, “We Are Born” (Jive): This is the fifth solo album by Australian modern singer-songwriter Sia Furler, formerly of Zero 7 and currently a collaborator of Christina Aguilera’s.

Teenage Fanclub, “Shadows” (Merge): The Scottish rockers resurface five years since their last album, “Man-Made.”

Tokyo Police Club, “Champ” (Mom+Pop): The second full-length from the Ontario indie rockers has already spawned a hit in “Breakneck Speed.”

Various Artists, “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse — Original Motion Picture Soundtrack” (Chop Shop/Atlantic): Muse, Metric, Florence + the Machine and, appropriately, Vampire Weekend put some bite into the latest installment in this bloodsucker series.

Various Artists, “Twistable Turntable Man: A Musical Tribute to Shel Silverstein” (Sugar Hill): The author-illustrator and occasional country songwriter gets his musical due on this tribute from Bobby Bare — Sr. and Jr. — My Morning Jacket, Kris Kristofferson, Dr. Dog, Lucinda Williams and others.

Clay Walker, “She Won’t Be Lonely Long” (Curb): The country singer’s first album in more than three years includes a duet with Alabama’s Randy Owen on that band’s “Feels So Right.”

Gary Wright, “Connected” (Larkio): The Dream Weaver returns with his first pop/rock album in 20 years, with help from Ringo Starr, Joe Walsh and Jeff “Skunk” Baxter.

The Young Veins, “Take a Vacation!” (One Haven Music): The debut set of the new band formed by ex-Panic! at the Disco members Ryan Ross and Jon Walker.

Various Artists, “Warren Haynes Presents: The Benefit Concert Volume 3” (Evil Teen): Gov’t Mule, Blues Traveler and Phil Lesh & Friends are among those who took part in guitarist Warren Haynes annual Christmas Jam for charity in North Carolina.

From The Vaults: Bing Crosby, “So Rare: Treasures From the Crosby Archive” (Collector’s Choice); The Cure, “Disintegration (Deluxe Edition)” (Rhino); Tiesto, “Magikal Journey (The Hits Collection)” (Ultra); Steve Winwood, “Revolutions — The Very Best of Steve Winwood” (Island/UMe)

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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