OK, let's all try to wipe the horribly derivative "Dirrty" from our collective consciousness and focus on the actual direction of Aguilera's long-awaited sophomore effort, which is decidedly more subs

OK, let's all try to wipe the horribly derivative "Dirrty" from our collective consciousness and focus on the actual direction of Aguilera's long-awaited sophomore effort, which is decidedly more substantive and mature than that single indicates. In fact, on Stripped, the one-time teen popster effectively proves that she has what it takes to establish an enduring career. While Aguilera collaborates here with a host of luminaries that includes Alicia Keys and Glen Ballard, none push her to greater heights than producers Scott Storch and Linda Perry—who, respectively, nurture the singer's inner soul-mama and hippy-chick. Both musical personas perfectly suit Aguilera's increasingly distinctive voice, as do the set's pervading lyrical theme of overcoming life's trials (as on the particularly potent, single-worthy ballad "Beautiful" and the scathing, arena-styled funk-rocker "Fighter"). It all adds up to a must-hear recording rich with pleasantly surprising depth.—LF