I have no doubt that Christina Aguilera would take back 2010’s Bionic if she could. It was her weakest selling album to date, failing to go gold. I was one of few people who liked parts of the album, but most critics were quick to chastise and pan it. Aguilera’s voice was not enough to get past the futuristic pop stylings and the ‘copycat’ lead single “Not Myself Tonight.” Add to the bombing album an overall horrible year for Aguilera including a bombed National anthem at the Super Bowl (which she practiced flawlessly) and a bombed film via Burlesque. The best of the best truly took a tumble, but things since that turbulent time have looked up for the pop/R&B chanteuse.
Aguilera managed to snag a judging post on NBC‘s The Voice, which has really elevated her falling star back
up to its rightful place. The question is, can 2012’s comeback effort Lotus translate into minimally gold sales? First single “My Body” may not have been the best choice to lead the excellent comeback effort, but it did showcase that Aguilera lost none of her vocal appeal or savvy. Perhaps The Voice performance of “Make The World Move” with Cee Lo Green will give Aguilera more traction in an ultra competitive week, where she is prognosticated to sell 75,000 copies. For Aguilera, those numbers are underwhelming as 2010’s Bionic did better with 110,000 sold at no. 3 only to bomb ultimately. Add to that notion she may sell equally or less equal than Lana Del Rey (Paradise) and the numbers get plumb bothersome.
While her days of platinum selling albums seem behind her, sad given the breadth of her voice, 2012’s Lotus ends up being a pleasant surprise. Ignore “Your Body” as there are better cuts than run circles around the obligatory modern pop single. Too bad only 75,000 or so will join for the enjoyable ride that is Lotus.
The album opens with a 3:18 intro, entitled “Lotus Intro.” Produced by Alex Da Kid and Dem Jointz, the intro is characterized by synthetic vocal effects and hip-hop/urban components. “Songbird, rebirth, unearth creature/submerge from hurt pain, broken pieces…” Aguilera weirdly sings throughout. If nothing else, “Lotus Intro” suggests and foreshadows the listener is in for some kind of ride.
Aguilera settles down on first cut of note “Army of Me,” produced by Tracklacers and co-produced by Jamie Hartman. Possessing a thudding pop beat, the cut avoids the rumination of Dr. Luke and Max Martin styled-pop in favor of something more slated in R&B-oriented pop sensibility, which plays to Aguilera’s strengths. Throughout, Aguilera’s vocals are powerful and energetic, with Aguilera truly hitting her stride by the conclusion. The chorus is inspiring and nothing short of brilliant: “One of me is wiser/one of me is stronger/one of me’s a fighter/and there’s a thousand faces of me/and we’re gonna rise up/yeah we’re gonna rise up/for every time you wronged me/well you’re gonna face an army…” Easily outperforms “Bionic” as an opener.
“Red Hot Kinda Love” is more ‘record’ than song. It hearkens back to some of the sensibilities of Bionic but I find it to work. Sure, it doesn’t show off the greatness of Aguilera’s voice as “Army of Me” illustrated the peaks and falls courageously, but it is an appealing enough novelty cut. There is a Madonna dance sensibility about the cut and it manages to be catchy enough. The rub is that with 3:06 of duration, it is a lot of to absorb with such busy production by Lucas Secon. Sort of divisive whether you approve or not.
Alex Da Kid joins Mike Del Rio and Jayson DeZuzio to produce the neo-soul oriented “Make The World Move” which features Cee Lo who has a surprisingly limited role in the collaboration. The soul groove suits Christina well, making the listener reminisce to 2006’s exceptional Back To Basics in which Aguilera really amped up her soulful side. At a brief 3:00, maybe the quibble is you hope for more song, particularly as addictive as the relatively simple cut is.
Two Max Martin and Shellback cuts proceed, as it is hard to find a major pop album that does not feature the production team or colleagues Dr. Luke or Cirkut. “Your Body” is the promo single for Lotus. It is by no means a bad cut, but one also feels Aguilera would have been better served by something that separated herself from “Not Myself Tonight.” To be fair, the cuts are different, but “Army of Me” and “Make The World Move” are better fits for Aguilera. It is catchy enough by all means, but there is a reason the cut was not an overt commercial smash.
The second Martin/Shellback cut “Let There Be Love” falls into the clichés of pop even more so than “Your Body.” An overt dance cut, earlier novelty cut “Red Hot Kinda Love” ends up being much more distinctive. That said, the cut is again solid (I’m being trivial) and Aguilera sings her face off as usual. It works.
“Sing For Me,” produced by Ian Step Manahan definitely finds Aguilera reclaiming her crown – if it was ever conceded. “Sing For Me” is a perfect epitomization of song that suits the big-voiced diva. A mid-tempo ballad with the songwriting to back it up, Aguilera absolutely slays this cut, employing falsetto (for lack of a better word), grit, and impeccable nuance. Add in tasteful supporting vocals and a dramatic key change, and “Sing For Me” is superb.
Companion ballad “Blank Page” is solid as well, keeping the pace slow. Aguilera’s vocals continue to command, aided in sound by superb vocal production. The accompaniment here is piano and synthetic pad, giving this cut a stripped feel. Tasteful background vocals provide some contrast, though a bit more variation could have been employed. Overall, Aguilera sings this song well, delivering yet another emotionally connecting performance.
“Cease Fire” looks past Aguilera’s balladry in favor of quicker pace and busier production. Produced again by Alex Da Kid, this time the production is a perhaps a bit much. “Cease Fire” works as a concept and is incredibly ambitious, if somewhat clunky and manic. Regardless, the listener infers and reads into the direction both Alex Da Kid and Aguilera were aiming for. Hey, the pummeling drums are effective.
“Around The World” possesses and R&B undertone which Aguilera executes well. Intact with big buttressing drums, the production work is solid, produced by Dwayne “Supa Dups” Chin-Quee and Jason “JG” Gilbert.
“Circles” is the real treat, again finding Alex Da Kid behind the boards. Different from any other cut, “Circles” is a mix of hip-hop and rock/pop sensibilities. Aguilera pulls it off extraordinarily well, capped off by the unifying, sassy chorus. If nothing else on Lotus catches listener’s attention, “Circles” should.
Penultimate cut “Best of Me” has its quirks about it (melodic choices), but ultimately comes together progressively as pieces reveal themselves. A collaboration between Alex Da Kid and Jayson DeZuzio, the production is solid. As always, Aguilera delivers a nuanced, emotional performance. “Best of Me” doesn’t quite achieve the lofty level of say “Sing For Me,” but is effective and by no means a miss.
“Just A Fool” features another The Voice judge, Blake Shelton. For as much as the two quibble on the show, the vocal chemistry is phenomenal. Slated as something between pop, R&B and country, the six-eight cut is a solid way to close an overall solid album. The vocal harmonies between Shelton and Aguilera a breathtaking and their personalities translate through their vocals. Solid production work from Scott Hendricks and sound songwriting from Wayne Hector, Claude Kelly, and Steve Robson.
All-in-all, if you had to take a pick between Bionic and Lotus, most would opt for Lotus. Lotus has its flaws, as pinpointed earlier, but more often than not it is a solid and enjoyable album. The main problem with Aguilera at this point in her career may be the fact she really has nothing left to prove or anything truly ‘new’ to bring to the table. This makes a new Aguilera album less of a big deal than it was years ago. Vocally, there is nothing to get tired of from one of music’s most prodigiously talented vocalists.