by Christina Aguilera, pop (2002)
RCA, $18.98, ASIN B00006CXXU

Christina Aguilera - or Xtina or whatever it is she chooses to call her naked guitar-clasping Rolling Stones cover self nowadays - takes three years to come up with a follow-up to her debut, and boy if that young lady doesn't surprise. Her debut is listenable but fluffy, but Stripped is pure pop delight.

An album that tries its hand at everything from blues, gospel, rock, some jazzy elements, and hip-hop can be disastrous and unfocused, but Stripped is surprisingly very coherent. It's Ms Aguilera's power statement that she has grown up, and if what I hear is correct, when she is credited as an executive producer here, she really does play that part. She has to fight to keep this album from being an overproduced pop affair, and she has done the right thing. Stripped shows this young lady utilizing her voice - that Britney and the rest of the teen prom queen pop tarts will kill for - in varied yet powerful ways.

It's definitely Ms Aguilera as a powerful, scorching survivor in tracks like Fighter and I'm OK, the last a dignified yet angry track dedicated to her abusive father. The feminist tract in Can't Hold Us Down is rather juvenile, but she's young, so it's understandable.

But a playful and flirty Ms Aguilera also shines in teasing songs like that Latin-tinged Infatuation and the naughty Get Mine, Get Yours, while her voice is put to maximum use with thumbs up effectiveness in ballads like Loving Me. The introspective Ms Aguilera takes the limelight in Walk Away and The Voice Within. But my favorite track are the Linda Perry collaborations, Cruz and the Sheryl Crow sounding Make Over. People, Xtina can do summer fun too. And her collaboration with Alicia Keys in Impossible is pure velvet chocolate on the ears.

There is not much oversinging here as much as Ms Aguilera finding ways to use her voice to amazing efforts. The weakest link here is the catchy but pedestrian Dirrty (the video, though, is joyously slutty and trashy - gotta love those horrid red panties and chaps of hers), a watered down Destiny's Child wannabe complete with unnecessary rent-a-rapper yammering.

She may look like death warmed over and dipped in sewer bilge at the moment, but as long as she keeps singing the stuff she did in Stripped, I don't care if her skin glows radioactive orange or she bares her lil' Chrissie and makes the entire world her gynaecologist. I'm buying. Ms Aguilera has grown up, and she does it with... well, maybe not with style but with a defiant, powerful two middle fingers up in the air and she has the voice, sass, and talent to go with her attitude. I like that, I really do!

Rating: 92

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