Christina Aguilera: Koko, London ****

MAKING AN ENTRANCE worthy of Kylie, Christina Aguilera looks stunning. Having reined in her penchant for leather and cleavage and adopted a look inspired by wartime pin-ups, the artist formerly known as ‘Dirrty’ is now properly glamorous.

The stage is a-swirl with dancers in jazz-era fringed skirts and fedoras, but even with her back to the crowd and arms aloft, she outshines the lot. Her new stylishness — hair coyly dipping over one eye; retro black and silver shorts — plays its part, but it’s her recalibrated attitude that makes the difference.

It seems that Aguilera, who’s here for a half-hour set to unveil her new double album, Back To Basics, has decided that her unassailable talent should be complemented by a fresh approach. Out, for the most part, go aimless R&B numbers and their brassiness. In come songs with a swinging 1940s aesthetic and a cheeky, burlesque-inflected charm.

Impressions are sketchy in such a brief set, but her record label must be relieved to know that she hasn’t entirely abandoned the sexed-up funk that sold all those records. She should have vetoed the sub-Beyoncé item that opened the show, though. It’s mainly distinguished by yelps of such volume that she holds the mic a foot away from her mouth to avoid melting down the amplifiers. But the song is easily ignored, and plenty of people do, concentrating on sneaking photos instead. ‘Candyman’, an Andrews Sisters pastiche with three-part harmonies and a naughty lyric, shows what she’s capable of vocally, while a slow-burning cover of ‘Lady Marmalade’ further heightens the feeling of being in an unusually large and humid New York jazz club circa 1950. ‘Beautiful’, her last UK No 1, was a stylishly restrained version of itself, after which Aguilera shimmied off stage, all vestiges of her overripe “Xtina” phase wiped from the house’s collective memory.

© Caroline SullivanThe Guardian, 22 July 2006

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