To say that the stakes are high for Christina Aguilera with the release of her new album Lotus would be an understatement. Coming off of a string of public mishaps, including the wide panning in 2010 of her album Bionic and her film Burlesque—not to mention a divorce and ongoing discussions/jabs about her weight—Aguilera’s role on The Voice has been perhaps the one bright spot in her career for the past couple of years. That, and riding Adam Levine’s coattails to Number One with last year’s Maroon 5 hit “Moves Like Jagger.”
Thus, it’s very apparent that Xtina is pinning a lot of hope on Lotus (which the opening track on the album depicts as a metaphor of Aguilera’s rebirth). And while the album is not without missteps, it definitely takes her several steps back in the right direction.
Speaking of the opening track, I have to be honest about my first impression—the very first coherent thought that popped into my head as I listened to “Lotus Intro.” The thought was: What the crap is a vocalist like Christina Aguilera doing using autotune? True story. But thankfully, this is not indicative of the record—it’s just an intro, folks.
That said, if you listen through Lotus, there are three distinct sides to Christina Aguilera the artist that become apparent (perhaps not unlike the different petals of the lotus flower to which she compares herself). I think perhaps the best way to review the record is to approach it with each of these three sides in mind.
First—there’s Christina the Fighter. This is evidenced the militant beat and tone on tracks like “Army Of Me,” “Cease Fire” and “Best Of Me,” which taken together almost sound like she took her hit “Fighter” and expanded it into a trilogy. Ironically, “Cease Fire” reveals a more vulnerable part of Xtina, the part that really doesn’t want to fight: “Throw down your weapons…I’m on your side.”
Second—there’s Christina the Dance Clubber, the sizzling Xtina that is ready for action, on the dance floor and otherwise. Much of the record is actually devoted to this pulsing-beat electro-dance vibe, exemplified by songs like “Your Body,” “Let There Be Love” and “Around the World.” While these tunes are catchy and generally worthy of being hits, the electro sound doesn’t always play well with Christina’s voice. It sounds almost as if she’s spending most of these songs trying to find a place to fit in her vocal runs. She manages to do it in a couple of places, but this style doesn’t really show us what she’s capable of. (By the way, “Around the World” is probably the biggest misstep on Lotus, coming across as basically an invitation to get it on set against a gimmicky international backdrop—almost like, “Let’s have sex at Epcot Center.” It just doesn’t work.)
And then, there’s Christina the Diva. This side comes across in the slower, ballad-like songs that really showcase what she can do as a vocalist—in particular, “Sing For Me” and “Blank Page.” These are the songs that prove unequivocally that this grrl can SANG. For me, these are absolutely the high points of the album, and this is the side of Xtina I happen to like best.
I suppose it’s also worth mentioning that there’s a fourth side to Xtina that briefly appears on Lotus. Let’s call it “Christina the Unapologetic Biotch.” The song “Circles” alone conveys this; coming across as directed partly at her ex, and partly at her haters in general, the song unabashedly invites detractors to “Spin around in circles on my middle middle finger,” punctuated with some strategic profane name-calling.
Other honorable mentions on the record include the two songs which feature Aguilera’s fellow judges on The Voice: Cee Lo Green (on “Make the World Move”) and Blake Shelton (on “Just a Fool”). I have to be honest—when I saw Shelton’s name on the track list, I immediately assumed the song would play like the CMA Entertainer of the Year standing there while Xtina sang circles around him. Instead, I found “Just a Fool” to be just the opposite. The surprise track on Lotus, it is really a tasteful duet between the two Voice judges, and a nice way to close the record.
Of course, the jury is still out on whether Lotus will rekindle Christina Aguilera’s struggling career—but it definitely has more going for it than Bionic did. At the end of the day, these different sides of Xtina really do demonstrate who she is as an artist, and prove that she deserves to be in the spotlight for awhile longer.