After the overt sexuality of 'Dirrty', Aguilera's latest is a change of clothes into power ballad land with a song that highlights issues of self belief and the importance of inner beauty. "Now and then I get insecure from all the pain, I'm so ashamed. I am beautiful no matter what they say" - I've no complaints about the sentiment, but I do question the execution; fresh from writhing around in her undies with a gaggle of male strippers in 'Dirrty', Aguilera tackling this seems as incongruous as Bill Gates singing 'If I Were A Rich Man' with a tone any other than ironic.
Because let's face it, the world knows that Gates is a rich man, so him playing it straight would be farce. In the same way, Aguilera is beautiful (or at least she conforms to a Twenty First Century Western ideal of what it means to be beautiful for many) and so her delivery of "I am beautiful no matter what they say" could easily be taken as an acknowledging boast instead of the (meant for) life affirming statement of self belief. Fair enough, Aguilera doesn't play it that way, and I dare say she hurts the same as everyone else when the lights go out, but the persona she's created doesn't project a credible picture of someone with problems of self image, and because of that it robs the song of much of its power.*
I'm guessing that Christina herself recognises as much and so to try and wipe clean the dirrty and gain the necessary emotional traction to make this believable she slips into a low soul gear to compensate. Unfortunately, 'low soul' for Aguilera involves a lot of "woooh"s, a lot of "woaah"s and a croaky groan suggestive of sticky toffee being prised off a floorboard. This too all to a soft rock arrangement courtesy of writer/producer Linda Perry who labours under the belief she's still working with 4 Non Blondes instead of 1 supposedly shy and insecure one and it whips up a no room to breathe quiet storm in an empty room that's more blowhard burlesque than her turn on 'Lady Marmalade'. In short, it doesn't convince; the strength of the song beneath carries a lot of the weight by itself, meaning this is no disaster. But like a benefit scrounger effecting a limp, Aguilera's performance rings with a hollow falseness that's all too overegged to be a truly palatable pudding.
* What also robs the song of its power is a misjudged promotional video featuring a perfectly made up Aguilera pouting into the camera, intercut with images of an 'Ugly Betty' schoolgirl getting the shit kicked out of her over the lines "words can't bring you down". Words can't, but a good beating will ruin anyone's day.