Give Christina Aguilera some credit. Although her overnight rise coincided with the emergence of Britney Spears, Mandy
Moore and Jessica Simpson, Aguilera's vocal prowess and willingness to broaden her musical horizons are unparalleled among
this current crop of teen-pop divas.
If anything, her latest offering, Stripped, is a testament to those qualities. It's a neat showcase for Aguilera's
powerful pipes, proof that the Staten Island-born siren could easily have stolen Kelly Clarkson's thunder on American Idol,
had her talents not been discovered a decade earlier on the Disney Channel's New Mickey Mouse Club.
Yet Stripped remains a sprawling over-reach, sabotaged by Aguilera's almost palpable ambition. She's got a potent
voice, a dynamite body (check out those steamy liner notes!), and seems intent on proving herself a master of every musical
genre. How else to explain uncharacteristic forays into Joan Jett-style rock ("Fighter"), slow, smoldering blues ("Walk Away")
and even hip-hop ("Dirty," a lascivious duet with Redman)?
Unfortunately, playing chameleon has its pitfalls. Aguilera has the range to carry the tunes, but without the singular
vision and masterful production that distinguished her 1999 breakthrough album, Christina Aguilera, her karaoke act
on Stripped falls flat. Gone are the guilty pleasures of dance-hall hits like "Genie in a Bottle" and "What a Girl
Wants." Even the album's finest moments -- a pair of tender ballads, "Loving Me 4 Me" and "Beautiful," and "Underappreciated,"
an irrepressible slice of funk -- tend to get lost in this muddled mix.
Elsewhere, Aguilera follows dutifully in the footsteps of fellow sirens Spears and Pink. Xtina, as she has recently designated
herself, spends nearly all of Stripped's 78 minutes exploring her newfound sexual liberation, titillating listeners with obvious
innuendo ("I need that uh to get me off/Sweatin' till my clothes come off") that seems more than a little contrived in the
wake of Britney's Oops!... I Did It Again and Pink's M!ssundaztood.
Funny that. During her "Stripped Intro," Aguilera comes on with an axe to grind and an air of self-importance. "Sorry you
can't define me," she tells her audience. "Sorry I break the mold." Coming from a teen princess whose career trajectory since
the release of her first album has been utterly predictable -- a Spanish-language version of Christina Aguilera (Mi
Reflejo), followed by a Christmas album -- it's a tall claim. And despite her efforts to transcend the all-too-familiar
dance pop that propelled her to stardom in the first place, Xtina doesn't back it up with Stripped. -- Rossiter