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Record Rack

'Stripped' but, alas, not revealed

October 27, 2002|Richard Cromelin; Steve Hochman; Natalie Nichols; Steve Appleford; Agustin Gurza; Randy Lewis; Soren Baker; Ernesto Lechner

Christina Aguilera

"Stripped"

** 1/2, RCA

Aguilera always had a head start on being grown up. Of the late-'90s teen-pop crop, she was the most adult in style and approach, so it's no surprise that on her first official adult pop album she sounds, well, adult -- a husky, dusky, wailing, growling, full-blown diva.

Nor is it a surprise that for the occasion Aguilera wants to show us the real Christina. The problem is, "Stripped" ends up showing us all the people that Aguilera wants to be. That would include Mary J., Alicia, Janet, Shakira, Pink.... The real Christina? She'll be along when the singer adds artistic maturity and individuality to her formidable technique.

Aguilera labors hard to turn out aggressive, generic samples of contemporary R&B, rock and pop, but it's not until a stretch of three songs written and produced by Linda Perry -- a veteran rock musician who has found a new career rehabilitating ridiculed pop singers -- that "Stripped" springs to life.

The power ballad "Beautiful," the eccentric pop track "Make Over" and another ballad, "Cruz," (the last two co-written by Aguilera) release a playfulness and personality that are untapped in most of the album, where her technique acts as a straitjacket rather than a door to artistic discovery.

--Richard Cromelin

Sigur Ros, in a language all its own

Sigur Ros

Untitled

*** 1/2, MCA

Who knows what Sigur Ros singer Jon Thor Birgisson is actually singing at any given time -- at least anyone outside Hopeland, the imaginary realm whose imaginary language he uses? But throughout this album's closing, 12-minute piece (the songs, as well as the album, are without titles), he sings a two-syllable phrase that sounds more or less like "you sigh."

And you probably will sigh listening to this recording -- rapturously if you found the soundscapes of the Icelandic group's "Agaetis Byrjun" wonderfully entrancing, perhaps just sleepily if you found its pace tedious. The musical evolution of Sigur Ros seems to move at a fittingly glacial pace, and new developments on this album are subtle, though not insignificant.

The overall effect is the same, the feeling of being enveloped by waves at once icily numbing and warmly comforting, with Birgisson's high voice and atmospheric bowed guitar the central features. But there's added structure now, as the pieces (eight of them averaging nearly nine minutes in length) rise from Brian Eno-like ambience to drum-burst flurries recalling Icelandic composer Jon Leifs' impressionistic portrayals of the island's vulcanian tempests. In fact, the crescendo of Track 7 might actually make you gasp as well as sigh. Sigur Ros plays the Wiltern Theatre Nov. 19 and 20.

--Steve Hochman

A more generous, loving namesake

Tori Amos

"Scarlet's Walk"

***, Epic

Surviving trauma has always been a theme for this singer-songwriter, and her seventh album is no exception. But as the collection's title figure encounters myriad characters while making her metaphorical way across the USA, Amos focuses less on registering anger and hurt and more on seeking solace and love.

That Scarlet ultimately finds both within herself is also a typical Amos lesson, but, literary devices aside, "Scarlet's Walk" reveals the eccentric musician's heart as more generous and unguarded than ever. Although she was inspired by the feeling that Americans saw their country after Sept. 11 as a wounded being rather than an abstract concept, she forgoes collective soul-searching for a characteristically intimate, personal take.

Most strikingly, she eschews histrionics to sing with empathy and soothing grace. The only slightly discordant notes are on the false-Messiah reproach "Pancake." As the producer, Amos lets the piano-driven tunes flow serenely into one another, with delicate threads of electric guitar, strings and carefully placed percussion. The songs interweave touchstones from her mother's Native American heritage with scenes from across the country and myriad pop-culture references. It's a lot to absorb, but Amos' gentle wit and sense of constant reevaluation make "Scarlet's Walk" a curiously moving journey toward inner strength. Amos headlines the Universal Amphitheatre on Dec. 17.

--Natalie Nichols

More sex talk and no apologies

Shaggy

"Lucky Day"

***, MCA

Shaggy makes no particular claims of seriousness. Or not many. Marley is rarely on the mind of this modern reggae singer, whose specialty remains the sort of sticky rhymes on sex and manhood that helped propel 2000's "Hotshot" album to sales of more than 6 million in the U.S. So his new album is more playful than deep, fueled by mischievous charm and sultry visions.

"It takes a real man to make a woman complete," he sings early on, demonstrating as much amid the female moans of ecstasy and electronic riffs of "Hookie Jookie." Soon enough Chaka Khan herself is joining Shaggy on the devious hip-hop soul of "Get My Party On."

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