Billboard CD reviews: Christina Aguilera, Korn, Jewel

Fri Jul 2, 2010 5:49pm EDT
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NEW YORK (Billboard) - We may have love affairs with all kinds of gimmicky divas, but it takes Christina Aguilera to remind us that singing really matters. That's not to say the pop star's latest release, "Bionic," is all about her voice, a muscular acrobat that's become more elegant with age. Combine it with the inventive work of a diverse cast of producers and you've got the best mainstream pop album of the year thus far. Sure, "Bionic" was made for a post-Lady Gaga world, where the comparisons are inevitable and the sales stakes are high. But from the fidgety intro of the dub-tastic opening title track (produced by Santigold collaborators John Hill & Switch) to punk-brat driving song "My Girls" (produced by Le Tigre, with a guest rap from Peaches) to Aguilera's gloriously restrained delivery on "All I Need" (Sia Furler co-produced the vocals), the 18-song set shows an artist confident enough to take direct cues from her tuned-in creative team. Because she's bold enough to do it her way, Aguilera maintains her reign.



A subtitle like "Remember Who You Are" implies a blast back to the past. That may be just what Korn intended by bringing back Ross Robinson, who produced the heavy rockers' first two albums. But "Korn III" (a reference to this lineup as the third incarnation of the band) moves forward more than it retrenches, referencing some stylistic trademarks while introducing some fresh dynamic sensibilities. It's the likely result of adding touring drummer Ray Luzier as a permanent member as well as stripping away the experimental excursions of 2007's untitled album in favor of a punchier and more direct approach. Frontman Jonathan Davis, who started "Korn III" as a concept album before shifting gears, is still a ball of rage -- "This is the time for truth and pain" he declares on the track "Holding All These Lies." The rest of Korn pushes that fury on such densely textured fusillades as "The Past," "Let the Guilt Go," "Are You Ready to Live?" and opener "Oildale (Leave Me Alone)."



Two years after she got her twang on, Jewel is still a country girl on her latest album, "Sweet and Wild." But she steps a touch closer to the pop side than she did on 2008 set "Perfectly Clear." Fiddle, pedal steel and the occasional banjo flavor rather than define the 11 songs here, and the bare-bones acoustic versions on a second disc included in the album's deluxe version put Jewel right back into coffeehouse (or perhaps campfire) mode. The song "Summer Home in Your Arms" recalls her 1995 breakthrough hit, "You Were Meant for Me" (and, in fact, dates back to the same period), while "No More Heartaches" slyly but defiantly kisses off a man who's done her wrong. And the lushly drawn "Fading" mixes a moody ambience with a quiet sense of desperation. The set is more sweet than it is wild, but it finds an effective middle ground between the multiplatinum troubadour and the modern country songstress.   Continued...