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]
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".
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 clichéd 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.
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.
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.