Christina Aguilera - Lotus Review
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 11.13.2012
After a tumultuous two years of highs and lows, Christina Aguilera is back with her latest LP, Lotus. But is it a return to the power vocalist's strengths or another failed misstep? 411's Jeremy Thomas checks in with his full review!
1. "Lotus Intro" (3:18)
2. "Army of Me" (3:27)
3. "Red Hot Kinda Love" (3:06)
4. "Make the World Move" (ft. Cee Lo Green) (3:00)
5. "Your Body" (3:47)
6. "Let There Be Love" (3:22)
7. "Sing for Me" (4:01)
8. "Blank Page" (4:05)
9. "Cease Fire" (4:08)
10. "Around the World" (3:25)
11. "Circles" (3:26)
12. "Best of Me" (4:08)
13. "Just a Fool" (w/Blake Shelton) (4:14)
In the ever-shifting world of pop music, it is nigh-impossible to have a career with any length to it. What is all the rage on the charts today is quickly thrown out the window and considered passé by tomorrow. You have lights that shine very brightly but even the really talented ones--the ones who are more than just a pretty face, a great body, some dance moves and a tolerable voice--get diminished very quickly. Even for those who last and become more than one-hit wonders have invariable ups and downs as artists; missteps and disasters both personal and professional. One great example of that is Christina Aguilera. Coming out of the bubblegum pop explosion of the late 1990s and early 2000s, Aguilera has often been compared to Britney Spears due to their mutual pasts as Mouseketeers among other things. Both have certainly had their ups and downs, with Aguilera's downs coming about two years ago with a divorce from her husband Jordan Bratman and, on a professional level, the disappointing sales and reaction to her last studio LP Bionic. She has recovered nicely since though, becoming one of the judges on the top-rated TV reality singing show The Voice and a new man in her life. All of those experiences have been funneled into inspiration for her latest album, Lotus, which hits stores today.
The album has been described by Aguilera as a "free rebirth" for her, and as such there is no wonder why there are so many of the empowerment anthems that she has done in the past in songs like "Soar," "Can't Hold Us Down," "Lift Me Up" and, of course, "Fighter." After an electronica-esque intro, the album launches into a song appropriately described by Aguilera herself as "Fighter 2.0." That song, titled "Army of Me," is more general in theme than its predecessor but covers the same ground with a modernized song. It's a song about triumph and the dance-pop production value makes it catchy; you can pretty much guarantee it will be a single. Aguilera is far less combative in the follow-up, "Red Hot Kinda Love" which is less of a mission statement and more of a fun, free kind of pop song. With lyrics like "Oh, I must be crazy/Because I only just met you baby/But it feels like I've known you all my life" you can immediately tell what she's going for and the Secon-produced beats mix with just enough funk to make it really enjoyable.
The album's first relative dud comes with "Make the World Move," which is a Black Eyed Peas-style party anthem. The song is certainly fun enough and Aguilera's vocal work is miles above what Fergie would do, but Cee Lo Green's vocals don't help the comparisons; he sounds strikingly similar to will.i.am here and while this kind of song is a strength of that group, it isn't exactly Christina's wheelhouse and she seems out of place with it. She's on far more secure ground with "Your Body." If you've got a radio, you've probably heard this one; it is Aguilera's much-discussed collaboration with hitmaker Max Martin. Martin is known for his reliance on hooks and big melodies and those are certainly present, but unlike what Martin did with her fellow judge on The Voice Adam Levine it is Aguilera who comes front and center on this track instead of the production. This is one of those kinds of songs where she excels, able to let her naughty side out a bit. She's clearly matured from the days of Stripped and even Bionic, where she would let her freak out without any kind of subtlety. I'm not saying there's a lot of subtexts in lyrics like "We’re moving faster than slow/If you don’t know where to go/I’ll finish off on my own" but it gets the point across crystal clear without needing to make it overtly vulgar.
There are three other standout tracks on the album worth discussing; the first immediately follows "Your Body" in "Let There Be Love." Martin's production fingerprints are all over this; it's a pulse-pounding club anthem and you can be sure it will be a mainstay of that scene. You could easily see this song fitting in on a Rihanna or even Lady Gaga album. The difference is that, like with "Your Body," Aguilera's voice is able to compete and even rise above the enormous sound that would drown out a lesser singer. The next big standout is "Blank Page," a powerhouse ballad in which Aguilera lets the beats fall away, leaving just her and a piano. It is striking in its simplicity and after spending much of the LP rising above heavy production, her voice is free to fly high here. Finally there is "Best of Me," one of the most personal songs on the album in which she reflects on the turmoil she went through in 2010. Aguilera shows both vulnerability and pain in lyrics like "Feel the weight of your hate/I still bleed, my heart aches/as you take and you take," but she notes that she's come through the fire and is stronger for it. With an almost militant drumming subtle rolling over the middle part of the song it presents an Aguilera who is resolved and ready for battle, proving that she's at her best when she stays true to herself instead of going off in experimental directions like portions of Bionic did.
Unfortunately, not every track in the last half of the album is gold and one of the last, "Circles," is one of those that don't quite shine. It's not a terrible song, but Aguilera's "screw you" attitude is best when there's a little subtlety to it. This song opens with "Spin around in circles on my middle middle finger," thus tossing subtlety out the window right off the get-go. Aguilera is clearly having fun with it but she comes off a little petty and her voice is largely leashed here, buried under unnecessary digital manipulation. The last track on the album, "Just A Fool," is her other collaboration with a fellow Voice star in the Academy of Country Music's Entertainer of the Year, Blake Shelton. The song heads more into Shelton's comfort zone and the two voices complement each other nicely, but it just sounds like it is trying too hard to fit the country-pop superstar duet mold to rise as high as the rest of the album.
Standout Tracks: "Army of Me," "Your Body," "Let There Be Love" "Blank Page," "Best of Me"
Skippable: "Make the World Move," "Circles," "Just a Fool"
The 411: Two years after the forward-thinking Bionic left people speculating that her career was winding down, Christina Aguilera has returned to her strengths and delivered a good comeback album in Lotus. The songs largely highlight her strengths as a vocalist and the lyrics are personal and play to her favorite themes of empowerment and coming through the fires stronger than she was before. The sound is contemporary pop and the team-ups with Max Martin, Sia and others will assure several hits off this album, but unlike many mainstream pop stars she has the pipes to keep her head above water amidst hooks and melodies that would drown other artists. It is a triumphant return that shows she still has something to offer, and for fans of pop music it's a very solid "buy."