Is Christina Aguilera's latest album a 'Bionic' blunder?

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Christina Aguilera has a new album out, but you wouldn't know it from pop radio, which is still dominated this summer by Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Ke$ha, Katy Perry and other fresh-sounding newcomers.

Ms. Aguilera's first album in four years, delivered with high expectations, debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard charts in early June, but it dropped quickly and is now positioned at No. 32. Its first-week sales were 111,000 and are hovering around 200,000, low even by today's lower standard for superstars. (Eminem sold 741,000 in the first week last month; Drake did 450,000.) By comparison, her last album, the retro-styled "Back to Basics," debuted at No. 1 and sold 346,000 in its first week.

The "Bionic" blunders began when the first single, "Not Myself Tonight," a pulsing club track accompanied by a kinky, sex-charged video, peaked at No. 23.

Keith Caulfield, senior chart manager/analyst at Billboard, says, "There's a combination of many things that resulted in the first week being not spectacular: the single doing tepidly on the radio and consumer reaction to the video, in terms of how consumers felt that it was a weird amalgamation of Madonna and Lady Gaga images of the past. When you have that huge stumbling block out of the gate, it's kind of hard to recuperate from that."

Another early "Bionic" blow was the cancellation of her summer tour, which was to hit her former hometown of Pittsburgh in August. It was scrapped for a bizarre reason -- "inadequate rehearsal time" -- and that was after promoters saw the sales figures.

With "Bionic," Ms. Aguilera chose, for the most part, not to highlight her stellar vocal talents in favor of a more popular robotic dance floor sound.

Reviews of the album have been mixed, with a ranking of 55 (out of 100) on Metacritic. The New York Times noted that her move toward an electropop Lady Gaga style "makes her sound as peer-pressured as a pop singer can be." The Washington Post called it "noisy, robotic and overstuffed." USA Today said it "harnesses her prowess with greater maturity and imagination."

A story in the New York Post quoted an industry insider saying that "the label has done its part, but she's headstrong ... [and] it doesn't seem that she's been open to that dialogue."

A rep from RCA responded that the singer "is a pillar of the RCA Music Group and is an undeniable talent, with one of the greatest voices of our time. She continues to push herself as an artist, and we are behind her efforts 100 percent."

This spring, Usher's comeback album stumbled at first but has taken off with the hot single "OMG." There is still a chance RCA could find one somewhere on "Bionic," the next shot being the ballad "You Lost Me."

"It's not taken off yet," Mr. Caulfield says. "Big ballads like that that are very slow have a harder time at radio, simply because radio right now is very rhythmic and midtempo and dance, and it's hard for very sparse ballads to catch on."

If "Bionic" continues to sink, she gets her first shot at redemption in November when she stars in the movie "Burlesque."

Scott Mervis: ; 412-263-2576.


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