Friday, 16 November 2012

[Album Review] Christina Aguilera "Lotus"




Christina Aguilera returns to the world of music with her seventh studio album, Lotus. After the commercial failure of last album Bionic it was always going to be a more "mainstream" sounding album that followed, for no artist can sustain multiple flops, no matter how big they are. However, even I was taken aback at how unimaginative and derivative the club inspired songs of Lotus turned out to be. Thankfully the few ballads on the album at least keep Christina's knack for inspired slow numbers intact.



Below is the track-by-track review of Lotus followed by my conclusion and overall rating. Listen to the tracks yourself and let me know what you think in the comments.
[Note: Your Body and Make The World Move have been covered in previous posts]

Lotus Intro:

The harmonies here are intoxicating, sounding like a mix of the vocal layering favoured by Brandy and Imogen Heap. The whimsical sound is urbanised by a heavy 808 beat, creating an intriguing blend of styles. It's a great start to the album. Sadly a mere introduction happens to be one of the strongest cuts on the album. (A)


Army of Me:  A rousing, empowering anthem that is just waiting for the single treatment. With a great vocal that is full bodied and throaty, Christina Aguilera pitches it perfectly here. I absolutely love the middle 8 with its whirling synths and proceeding vocal slide. No vocal mixing going on here, with one coarse belt after another, but it works well. (B)


Red Hot Kinda: An interesting beat with a playful vocal. Features some softer shades of Christina's vocal palette but overall it's a pretty "Meh".
(C-)

Let There Be Love: Yikes, this song sounds too much like this Jeffree Star monstrosity [link]! Christina is going mainstream (and hard) with this euro-club track. However, I think she's arriving at the club as the lights are being switched on and the crowd are leaving. This is the definition of the ubiquitous club sound that is everywhere. Not Good. (D-)


Sing For Me: I love honesty, and this Aguilera co-penned track sounds incredibly real to me. Sing For Me is Chirstina's two finger salute to all the people who've taken shots at her voice and her singing style- yes, I am aware that includes me. It's a touching, if a little loud, window into the world of Christina and her love of what she does. Ironically it would have been even better if she'd moved away from the microphone as those top notes were hollered out. (B+)



Blank page: Co-written with Sia, Blank Page is the strongest ballad on the album, but once again Christina Aguilera attacks it too harshly. The backing is so soft, gentle and generally beautiful that

Christina's abrasive belting is even more pronounced by the stark contrast. I think this may have been sorted if they'd mixed the track better, but as it is, it's too raw, vocally, for me to get into fully. It should have been my heart hurting by its end, but it's actually my throat that aches in sympathy pains. (A-)



Cease Fire: I really like Ceasefire.The concept of the song is strong: with the metaphor of their relationship being like a war and the use of the strong battle drum that drives the track. The vocal is also on point, with Christina really selling the emotion of the piece. Listen out for the middle 8, it features some beautiful harmonies.(B+)


Around The World: I really don't like this and I can't put my finger on why I dislike it so much. I think it's just an ugly song.(-D)

Circles: Juvenile enough to rival Bionic's I Hate Boys. Christina you and me are both too old for this S***. Not Cute.(D-)


Best Of Me: A song that has some of the most clich├ęd lyrics on the album. It's odd because the song had zero effect on me-well, apart from the annoyance the lyrics were generating- until it's closing, where the awful synths dropped out and Christina voice wavers over a chorus of drums. Suddenly the lyrics gained a depth the overproduction of the track had masked. Stripped back this could have been a stronger song.
(C-)


Just A Fool: Christina Aguilera is giving me Pink vibes on this adult contemporary, pop-rock track. This features a vocal from her fellow Voice judge Blake Shelton and it's surprisingly good; if out of place on the album. Out of all the songs on Lotus this genre sounds to be where Christina's new, rougher voice fits best. (B+)


Conclusion: Whereas most people cite Stripped as Christina Aguilera's best work, for me her albums Back To Basics and Bionic will always be considered stronger sets for their focus, ambition and risk. So it's perhaps no surprise that I wasn't thrilled when Christina started comparing Lotus to Stripped before it was released. That to me meant an unfocused and "see what sticks" approach was coming, all in the hope of her finding a sound that resonates with a wider audience.

In actuality, Lotus is more cohesive than I thought it would be. The only problem is that the cohesion has been created by focusing firmly on the mainstream; resulting in an album that feels stuffed full of euro-pop club bangers that sadly already sound dated.

There are some good songs to be found on Lotus- Your Body, Lotus Intro, Blank Page, Cease Fire- but for me their quality is tempered by the overbearing vocals that have been allowed to make it on to the album. In fact I would go as far as to rate the album up one whole grade if the vocals had been cleaner. But as Christina herself says on Sing For Me, she doesn't care what affect her voice has on anyone else because it's her own personal form of expression and it's her heart given musical form. It's a sentiment I have to commend, but I can guarantee you it will turn off listeners outside of the more fawning fan.

Lotus is ultimately Christina Aguilera's most generic and, as a result, weakest album to date but the plus side of this is that it has quite a few chances to generate a hit single- after all "generic" seems to be what selling at the moment. If Christina could just get that one big hit single it could mark the revival of her once successful musical career.

Let's hope Lotus contains the seed from which Christina Aguilera's resurrection sprouts. Then she can get back into her own musical lane and start taking chances with her output again.

Rating: D+


Guest Review: Devotees, Brian and Sparklilu were kind enough to review the album too- speaking more in depth on Christina's voice. Read what they had to say below. Many thanks to the pair of them!

Christina Aguilera brings to us a new chapter in her career through the creation of Lotus, an album which truly drags out the singer’s pop sound to its fullest. Don’t be fooled by the lack of laser guns and electronic lady parts. As although previous album Bionic was met with poor reviews and album sales, Lotus retains its predecessor’s electronic sound with a mixture of up-to-date pop material and heartfelt ballads.

Like the telling of a story, the composition of the songs on the album retain the usual introductions and endings that Christina always ensures are within the confines of her vocal tale. And that is where the ugly business shows up. Although Miss Aguilera’s breath control and rasp have improved incredibly, the coarse, throaty edge that is always present within the top of her chest notes not only still persists but is more potent than ever. Whether it be in the background of an eerie yet nostalgic sound like “Lotus Intro” or right in our ears with anthems such as Sing for Me, Christina Aguilera remains unapologetic to her vocal cords. The gritty rasp people tend to associate with her voice in today’s pop scene isn't present; however, the belts E5 and above are characteristic of Bound to You basically meaning she’s screaming them out.

Whether you love her or hate her, Lotus has the capability of monster album success with its heavy pop sound and Aguilera’s killer vocals. Fans of Aguilera's ballads should not expect too much heartfelt material as although sounding great, the album still lacks the personality that lies within Back to Basics and Stripped. Nevertheless, a strong comeback is ensured with an album of this quality as it appeals to more than just her fanbase. Aguilera’s strength resides within the album’s lyrics, but the album’s public image is shimmery, bright, a bit blurry; perfect for new listeners.

26 comments:

  1. I wonder if any of the top reviewed singles here will be chosen. I think "Blank Page" would make a smart ballad choice after they release the upbeat numbers. I agree that a little more subtlety with the vocals would have you had this at least peg this a C+ effort. Her tone can be too strident and brazen, but Christina's "I don't care" posture seems to have become her trademark and we see it on "Sing for Me" as you note. I wonder if it might be counterproductive as she continues to work on her voice, however.

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  2. The first week sales for Lotus are expected to be 75-80k, her lowest to date.

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  3. Honestly though I think Christina's biggest issue is lack of marketing. Usually you see monster albums being promoted at huge concert venues, television performances, music festivals, etc. Christina has done none of this but the voice. Expecting pure fandom to carry out her success won't cut it this time. Relying purely on hope for an internet explosion is hurting her more than helping. What she needs is a great marketing schedule and a lot more public appearances. Because with her public image especially after this past year people will be more put off by her music at first sight unless they get to hear it themselves somewhere else.

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  4. Also DD you should take a look at the deluxe edition songs. In my opinion they are of higher quality than the regular Albums songs. Although Shut up might be one of those songs where you're just like Wtf Christina lol.

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  5. It seems like her marketing has gradually declined over the years. Has RCA thrown her under the bus for newer acts is one question I would ask. While the general state of the record industry is not good for most artists, she should definitely be shipping more albums than she has. Something is definitely amiss with her marketing and promotion.

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  6. To me the vocals on "Fool" are more reminiscent of 4 Non Blondes than Pink.
    Other than that I have little to say about this album. I know...go figure. ;)
    It's just ....musically uninteresting.

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  7. This album... disappointing. I expected more from her since the floppy album Bionic. *sigh

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  8. So many weak singles together. "You Body" is a little bit better, but doesn't save the album from mediocrity.

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  9. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e12euS80rh8
    I found this quite interesting...

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  10. Yeah I heard that too. That's terrible (even though the album sucks) but one would think with all the exposure and high ratings from The Voice, it'd sell more.

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  11. im still gonna stick with jeffree star ......but if anyone has the right to use auto tune its Christina because she CAN sing. then again ....is it ever right to use auto tune .

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  12. After so
    much anticipation, I found myself really disappointed after listening to this
    album. Deep inside of me, I knew that this album was going to be more
    mainstream than ever, but I expected a better overall quality. On top of that,
    she compared many times the sound of this new album to the one found in
    Stripped, but it wasn't the case. This albums is heavy in pop and electro-dance
    tracks, with little ballads and other genres. Stripped main genres weren’t
    those, but Rock(ish), R&B and Powerhouse Ballads. It didn’t have many pop
    songs (the only up-tempo pop track was Infatuation). I’m so overwhelmed but the
    amount of dance songs, that I really hoped her to be as original as she was in
    Back to Basics, where she met not only commercial success, but also she gave a
    different offer to the table.

    I couldn’t
    believe that there were only two ballads in this album (Sing for Me and Blank
    Page), and a bunch of insipid and uninspired mid-tempos. I expected a longer
    set of ballads, but I think that the worst part was that her vocals in these
    two ballads aren’t what one would expect of an artist with so many years in the
    music industry. I knew that she had been having problems singing live and that her
    voice wasn’t the same, but I thought that she would sing properly in a studio environment,
    or at least that she would try as many times as she needed until the vocals in
    her songs were as perfect as they could be. “Sing for Me” sounded for me like “F*ck
    you, I’m gonna do what I want, and sing how I want”, and I don’t think that’s
    wise for a singer. She SHOULD CARE and have some musicality to realize that she
    is not sounding good. Rawness and straining are not the same things, and her
    belts were almost painful to my ears.

    The up-tempos
    were fun but forgettable. “Army of Me” was a big letdown, because it has
    nothing to do with “Fighter”. Yes, the lyrics are alike, but “Army of Me lacks both
    the rock feeling of Fighter and the powerful vocals that made us all fall in
    love with her. “Your Body” was a poor choice as a lead single, I think “Let
    There Be Love” could have charted better, because is as mainstream and
    commercial as it gets.

    The only two
    songs that I think were worth listening: Blank Page, in spite of her questionable
    vocals, the song is really beautiful and she really felt the lyrics, for once
    in this album; and “Just a Fool” because is an amazing song with spectacular
    lyrics and Blake is a really great singer with a voice that allows me to really
    connect with song.

    Overall, it
    was a really disappointing and lackluster album. There are a couple of good
    songs, two really amazing pieces of art, but way too many poor and unremarkable
    up-tempos and mid-tempos, influenced way too much but dance-pop. I think she
    can do way better than this. She’s lost her way and this album is a clear proof
    of that.

    RATING:
    5/10

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  13. Listen to her horrible high notes in most of the songs:

    Did you hear that? That was Xtina confirming that her voice is already being affected by her horrible way of singing. :D

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  14. Can somebody please mention the fact that "Light Up the Sky" off Lotus sounds EXACTLY like Celine Dion's "Because You Loved Me", haha.

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  15. A little on the verses, not really.

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  16. The phrasing of the verses is EXACTLY the same. Like EXACTLY. From the vocal triplet down at the end of every line to the held syllable on the third line.
    Ridiculous.

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  17. Well, Xtina's been imitating others her entire career. To sing one similar sounding song... eh. Not really a surprise/

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  18. I must say that "BEST OF ME" is my favorite song on the album because i can totally relate to the lyrics. If anything its way better than "Blank Page". But I cant believe DD is hating on Let there Be Love that song makes me wanna dance and hit that massive vocal run she does ( lol I keep replaying that bit). But yea what the hell was christina thinking with "Circles". Girl you had two years and you come up with a song like this oh HELLL NO. In conclusion its a "soild" album, but not a great album. I really wanted some really emotionally charged ballads.

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  19. I personally love Just A Fool. I think it's different from what she used to sing. I kinda love Let There Be Love too, the beat is addictive and there is a part where she belts and amazingly, it sounds healthier (rather than her usual throaty, coarse belts). I think the part is on 2:45...

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  20. Just a few good songs, I gotta say I prefer Bionic, at least the ballads were prettier, and it had some really nice experimental electronic tracks(like Elastic Love), and I also agree with someone that said about 'Back to Basics' here, that genre fits her well, and now that the market is starting to get less popelectronic(with space to some artists like Adele and Lana Del Rey, and with very comercial people like Rihanna and Lady Gaga releasing some less comercial/unexpected singles like 'Diamonds' and 'You and I') she should have tried to think bigger, if not to the mainstream, at least to get well with the critcs and get some 'good music' fans to buy her album. Just hope everything ends well to her, she doesn't deserve to fade.

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  21. The word average springs to mind, the best of the lot is Army of Me, Red Hot Kinda Love, Blank Page and Empty words....

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  22. Soooo yeah, to me this was pretty much Bionic 2.0. Very average. I've been reading other reviews and I think I'm the only person who actually likes "Around the World"! Anyway, to me the hands down best song is "Sing for Me" with "Blank Page" following that.

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  23. I think it's a huge freakin cop out to act as though Xtina doesn't have any marketing. Are you guys nuts? She's on TV constantly she gets tons of press. The problem is no one likes her. She's the lilo of vocalists. She had potential 15 years ago. That's over now. You can like her all you want it doesn't make her a good singer. Just because she attempts several genres and pretends to have a big range with the sloppy runs she managed to copy off of Houston and Carey doesn't mean she succeeds.

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  24. She also came from DIsney and now she's singing F*** your body. Those people aren't taking the chance of going down with her.

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  25. Yeah except she wore that Auto Tune is for Pussies T-shirt. https://twitter.com/i/#!/Floptina_Legend/media/slideshow?url=pic.twitter.com%2FnDpPrNtx

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