Review of Lotus
Looking back, the tabloid-fodder period of 2010 and 2011 were probably years Christina Aguilera wished never happened. Burlesque tanked. Her marriage with Jordan Bratman dissolved. Then, she flubbed the lyrics of the “Star-Spangled Banner” at the Super Bowl. Making matters worse, Bionic, a highly ambitious album curtailing her musical taste buds into Gaga territory, fell on deaf ears and her subsequently planned tour was mysteriously canceled. Had it not been for the salvation of TV time on NBC’s hit show, The Voice, and the budding connections with her co-stars (see Adam Levine on “Moves Like Jagger”), Aguilera would’ve probably taken a serious sabbatical or fell into a miserable pit of Debby Downer depression. Still, all attention is on the pop diva with the robust R&B pipes to return once again to her place of prominence in pop culture. Her brief cameo on Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger” was a good attempt at resurgence, but the move felt too calculated. At its core, it was a smart pair-up gimmick partially used to attract viewers to the show. What she desperately needs now is something that validates her, something that will reaffirm her very presence in a re-born cosmos that’s now dominated by Adele ballads, off-kilter R&B and non-stop electropop. Lotus, Xtina’s seventh disc, is a safe move in the right direction. It’s far from a miscalculated time machine, nor is it designed to distract her closest fans. But, it hardly wins new converts to her brand of soul pop.
Lotusregrettably opens up with a breathy three-minute ballad that feels like an elongated self-righteous hip-hop prelude. When “Army of Me” starts to play, it serves as a bittersweet nod at Donna Summer’s legacy, except that the Euro-disco fails to package the type of aggression bottled in “Bad Girls,” something Xtina needs badly. Luckily, the album isn’t barred of decent performances. She engages the speakers with a buzzy retro-sounding, funky jam “Red Hot Kinda Love,” while her Cee Lo-spotted “Make the World Move” walks on Beyoncé’s turf. The Max Martin-produced single, “Your Body,” plays with Mary J. Blige swagger and a sing-a-long chorus – enough bait to hook listeners for the second half, even if it feels subpar when measured against his previous hits. The dancefloor urgency on “Let There Be Love” sounds good on her, but it experiments with Cobra Starship’s 2011’s synth-pop delight “You Make Me Feel…”) so much so that it sounds like a lazy rip-off.
Amazingly, the album’s likability lies within the ballads, such as “Empty Words” and the very intimate “Blank Page.” The latter, decorated with warm piano, allows Xtina to fall in love with her delicately penned lyrics: “Draw me a smile/and save me tonight/I am a blank page/waiting for you to bring me to life.” On paper, her duet with small screen partner Blake Shelton on “Just a Fool” sounds like an awkward set-up, but the energetic guitar riffs and thunderous drums fire up the track’s adrenaline. When the two collide with their two-part harmonies, their belting reaches epic status. It’s probably Aguilera’s finest duet, and quite possibly the album’s greatest salvo.
It’s pretty hard to predict if Xtina will seriously get a career boost from this set. Lotus isn’t marred with the miscalculated experiments of Bionic, nor does she fall prey to earning unnecessary points in the bitch mode as she’s been forever painted by since her Stripped days. But, with her big, soulful pipes, the type that could bring down Adele and Katy Perry with one wallop, the album never ascends to become the momentous experience it could have been. It isn’t a major comeback, nor is it a step-back, not by a long shot. It only proves that her presence on The Voice was successful in getting our attention, whileLotusbarely keeps it. Mildly recommended.
By J Matthew Cobb