Restraint is not in Christina Aguilera’s nature. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in a pop star – witness her fabulously filthy hit “Dirrty” – but it can also have unhappy consequences, as with her latest album Back to Basics, an indulgent double CD tribute to the soul and jazz singers in whose footsteps Aguilera presumptuously sees herself following.
Which way would her live show go? I feared the worst when she introduced her set as “my most inspired 20 songs, you could say” and boggled at other examples of her 24-carat self-regard, such as a video interlude showing fans professing their love for her (“You’re one of my greatest role models!”), which Aguilera followed up by singing her power ballad “(I Am) Beautiful”.
Yet ego and star power are vital ingredients for a successful stadium show, and Aguilera put on a fine one tonight. The choreography and costumes were eye-catching, and although there wasn’t much subtlety or tenderness in her singing – the slow songs were like battering rams trying to bludgeon an emotional response from our hearts – there was a great deal of force and authority. From the moment of her spectacular entrance in a dazzling white outfit it was clear she intended to command the stage like an absolute monarch.
Her jive- and swing-based songs sounded awkward (Madonna came a cropper doing the same in her “Hanky Panky” phase), but other tracks from Back to Basics worked better. Brassy funk and vintage R&B were the perfect vehicle for Aguilera’s force-10 vocals, and older hits were cleverly re-jigged to fit with the evening’s retro musical mood.
The concert’s theme was her reinvention as a classy, grown-up performer, the explicitness of “Dirrty” transformed into a more burlesque form of naughtiness. But the impression left was of an entertainer who lacks moderation in everything she does: a blessing on stage, less so in the recording studio.
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