First things's first: Perhaps this album should have been called Hubris. Like Christina's past pop contributions, this 17-track disc -- I'm going with the Deluxe Version here -- is an ambitious effort. The girl sure loves to deliver a meaty musical package. Every heavily-produced track is as confident as that questionable album cover. She clearly doesn't give a shit, especially after two colorful decades in the business. Read any current interview of hers, and you'll see that she still prides herself on unabashedly expressing herself no matter what anyone says. It seems as if she gets off on spitting back at her critics, particularly her haters. But one has to ask: Why bother? Why continue to be on the defensive?
Maybe someone should tell Miss Aguilera that subtlety is in. Yes, she has that voice -- and no, I'm not talking about the talent competition show that has redirected the spotlight on her after a rough start to the new decade (Bionic and Burlesque anyone?). But as strong and impressive as those pipes are, there's something very late-90s about them now. Her voice is like a supercharged racehorse that hasn't stopped sprinting since that bottled genie was rubbed the right way (kudos to her for keeping those chords intact). However, maybe it's time to reign them in a bit and take the following to heart: "less is more."
The reason why I dare critique my favorite pop diva is because I fear we live in an age where rampant Auto-Tuning has desensitized ears. It seriously bugs me when listeners can't tell the difference between actual talent and synthesized vocals nowadays. Everyone now seems to assume that all voices are given a heavy polish (with the exception of Adele, of course). That said, combining high-energy production values with a powerhouse vocal that needs no tweaking, Lotus may be a bit much for today's ears. In other words, it is my opinion that Aguilera is trying to find her place in a world that contradictorily favors glittery trash (Ke$ha), neo-soul (Adele), candy-coated concoctions (Katy Perry), and performance art (Gaga, Rihanna). Make no mistake: Lotus is still an effective pop album despite some of its formulaic choices.
Highly touted for their "concepts", Christina's albums aren't really known for their narrative prowess. Critics have been tough on her, complaining about the schizophrenic nature of her discography. What's with the angry shout-outs in one song, followed by a love ballad promoting peace? What's going on, girl? Who are you angry at, and why tell us to "Shut Up" after commanding us to "turn down the hate"? Has being a divorced mom been rough for you? Where's the song dedicated to your adorable son Max? I thought this album was supposed to be representative of what you've been through since "Not Myself Tonight"...
Here's my breakdown:
1. "Lotus Intro" -- M83 fans, back down. Yes, she samples "Midnight City," but it's a harmless, ambient track. I barely recognized it. Why Miss Aguilera insists on presumptuous openings like this one -- in which she (and her production team) pound the album's supposed theme into our brains -- I will never know. 5/10
2. "Army of Me" -- Christina's ode to multiplicity; betray her and she'll come back with a shitload of clones to take you down. So says this slightly bland dance floor stomper. 6/10
3. "Red Hot Kinda Love" -- Christina attempts to defy pop conventions with this sprawling romp. Gwen Stefani would be proud. 8/10
4. "Make The World Move" -- Her brassy collaboration with Cee-Lo is a battle cry, urging listeners to "turn up the love, turn down the hate" and move to their "future sound." High school pep rallies, you've got your next theme song. 8/10
5. "Your Body" -- Back in August I wrote about this ode to one-night stands and how I had put it on repeat throughout an entire weekend. By now you should know how I feel about this one. 10/10
7. "Sing For Me" -- The first ballad on Lotus. Perfect for a promo for one of those inspirational flicks on Lifetime Movie Network. 7/10
8. "Blank Page" -- The best of her ballads, this track proves what this girl can do if you just give her a piano, lyrics by Sia, and some -- some -- restraint. It's the only track that comes close to reflecting her personal life from the past two years. In short, it's the "Beautiful" of the Lotus era. 9/10
9. "Cease Fire" -- Drums act like gunfire in this transparent song about a nasty breakup disguised as an anti-war anthem. Old-school beats accentuate her pleas for weapons to be dropped, for defenses to be torn down. 6/10
10. "Around The World" -- What sounds like Beyonce B-side from 2006 is a chance for her to spout out international locales as if she were a horny travel agent looking to christen every hotel room from here to Ibiza. And yes, she rhymes Japan with Milan. More laughable than blasphemous. 6/10
11. "Circles" -- The one where she tells us to sit and spin on her middle finger and manages to incorporate the word "motherfucker" into a nursery rhyme-like chant. Whoa. 5/10
12. "Best of Me" -- One of those you'll-never-bring-me-down pieces that doesn't really go anywhere. 5/10
13. "Just a Fool" -- If released, this duet with her Voice co-judge Blake Shelton would do her wonders on the country and adult contemporary charts. Classic, tasteful, and begging for a country line dance. 9/10
14. "Light Up The Sky" -- An inspirational, rule-the-world theme that'll lift any downtrodden spirits. 8/10
15. "Empty Words" -- A gentler version of 2002's "Fighter" with stirring drums, strings, and piano. 9/10
16. "Shut Up" -- Possibly the most unnecessary track on Lotus. A waste of iPod megabytes. 4/10
17. "Your Body (Martin Garrix Remix)" -- A shitty retooling of a hot song, Garrix strips away most of Xtina's vocals and trades them in for obnoxious dubstep beats that sound as if a trash compacter is being raped by a jackhammer. 4/10