IT'S ALL change for Christina Aguilera, both personally and professionally, in the four years since she delivered Back To Basics, her successful update of jazz, swing, soul and old school blonde bombshell glamour. She is now a wife and mother and credits her son as the ultimate inspiration for her new album, a gushy dedication which sits queasily and uneasily with the content of the record.
She must also face down the emergence of a certain significant rival in the blonde ambition stakes and has ostensibly opted to outfreak her challenger with an intriguingly esoteric guest list for Bionic.
In addition to her frequent collaborator Linda Perry – without whose songwriting contribution it seems no big-hitter pop album would be complete – Aguilera has also invited lascivious electro punk harridan Peaches, hipster auteur du jour MIA, riot grrrl icon Kathleen Hanna and her band Le Tigre and insipid folktronica chanteuse Sia to the party.
But don't get too excited too soon – Sia is the one who gets most of the action, while the collaborations with icy electro fembots Ladytron, plus Santigold and Bravery frontman Sam Endicott relegated to the bonus disc, and Goldfrapp's mooted contribution hasn't made the cut at all.
Unlike the deliberately retro-fitted Back To Basics, Bionic is allegedly "futuristic" in its creative intent. Xtina has the technology… and she's gonna use it to eradicate every sliver of humanity from her performance, leading off with the digitised dancehall of the title track. Consequently, the anticipated "new sound" sounds much like the old sound from her Stripped days, with Aguilera falling back on lame dirty talk and S&M imagery rather than deploying the formidable range of her diva's voice. And, at an hour in length, Bionic is a real trawl.
Lead single Not Myself Tonight is the kind of efficient but soulless robo-disco meets pop R&B which has become the will-this-do default option for every pop diva from Madonna onwards, while follow-up single Woo Hoo is just as tedious.
A word of warning before we go any further. There are a couple of dominant messages being broadcast here through a loudhailer which can be succinctly summarised thus: Xtina loves to do sex, Xtina loves expensive stuff, Xtina loves herself.
Woo Hoo falls into the former category. The title is a relentless and resolutely unsexy extended euphemism for her lady parts and the song is a teasing, mechanical demand for the stimulation thereof. Put it away, Aguilera.
Elsewhere, she plays the Latino dominatrix on the horny dance track Desnudate and leaves nothing to the imagination on the breathy, fluttering R&B come-on coupling of Morning Dessert/Sex For Breakfast. The in-yer-face sexuality is cynical rather than liberated. No matter the tenor of the times, we all know that sex sells and it's all over Bionic with legs splayed.
Don't wanna talk about sex? How about make-up then? Glam – preceded by a spoken word interlude which sounds like an advert for her perfume or some other purportedly aspirational product we're supposed to want desperately because Xtina is endorsing it – is her blatant bid to produce a Vogue for our times. Like Lady Gaga, she's ordering brazenly from Madonna's catalogue of images. But you can't be a style icon in borrowed robes.
Prima Donna is this album's stab at the strong woman anthem, la Destiny's Child's Survivor or her own Fighter – the message here being that empowerment comes from being a demanding diva or resorting to the blatant narcissism of Vanity, on which she brays "I'm not cocky – I just love myself". If she's having a laugh, I'm not hearing the joke.
When she does attempt to show a softer, more vulnerable side, it is with the feeble, pedestrian Lift Me Up, a standard issue ballad Linda Perry found while scraping her songwriting barrel, and the Sia portion of the album, which comprises three wet, whimsical tracks with breathy vocal trills, acoustic guitars, tasteful strings and even a twinkling celeste. But at least it's a welcome break from all the thrusting and egotism, like eating a bowl of lettuce after an all-you-can-eat buffet of processed food.
On the plus side, she has some petulant, throwaway fun on the electro glam of I Hate Boys and the cheerleader chant of My Girls. Despite the latter's compelling Bowiesque funk rhythm and the presence of alternative feminist artists Peaches and Le Tigre, it still sounds like something you might hear on a Sugababes album.
With that cast list, Bionic could have been so much better. It's left to MIA to salvage some originality with Elastic Love, an eccentric little electro-pop song which deploys office stationery items as a metaphor for a relationship. But it's really just the best of a disappointing bunch – lyrics such as "paper clips couldn't even hold us together" could have been written on a Post-it.