Reviews of 'Lotus'

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The Guardian says:
3 out of 5 stars

Stars like Christina Aguilera aren't supposed to fall. The status of multi-platinum A-lister comes with an in-built positive feedback mechanism. Success, at this level, tends to maintain. A team ensures your singles sound like hits while fans buy into a star and are reluctant to disinvest because that implies their own taste wasn't trustworthy to begin with.

Nevertheless, Aguilera took a big knock with her last album, Bionic (2010). It probably sold around half a million copies worldwide (a big flop, in pop money). Blogs still rage about whether Bionic was too brave, featuring as it did collaborations with riot grrl veterans Le Tigre, or whether the record company dropped the ball. It was the tipping point for an annus horribilis. Aguilera got divorced, released a flop film, Burlesque, over-sang the Star-Spangled Banner at the 2011 Super Bowl, was arrested for being drunk in public, and acquired hips.

In pop terms, all this now makes the 31-year-old mother of one a Survivor, and that, in turn, allows her to dip freely into the righteousness narrative of older female stars who've been divorced, abused or addicted. Tenacity and rebirth are themes telegraphed hard on Lotus. Nothing to do with the luxury sports car – apparently the lotus is an "unbreakable flower that withstands any harsh weather conditions… and remains beautiful and strong". This is wiffle of the highest order. But one of the pleasures of Aguilera is that she can use polysyllables, even when talking the rot that fills women's mags.

Her ex (we presume) is the target on at least a couple of tracks, which serve up divorce two ways, devilled and fried. Uptempo thumper "Army of Me" shares emotional territory with the Björk song of the same name and Aguilera's old hit, "Fighter". Aguilera may be in pieces but all those bits have Uzis. "Circles" enjoins some dude to swivel on her middle finger. The sing-song verse is redolent of Rihanna but you can forgive a lot when there's a line as zingy as "Why you always tryna be up in my mixture?/ Cos I'm freaky fly fresh/ And you just bitter."

Elsewhere Aguilera tries hard to soothe the horses. Most of the uptempo tracks follow production trends closely and then drop an ecstatic Aguilerean ululation on top. You can see straight through them but they work. There's more Rihanna-copping, for instance, on "Around the World", a come-hither tune that also quotes from Aguilera and co's cover of "Lady Marmalade" (Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mýa, Pink), from a time when she could put no stiletto wrong.

Aguilera's stock is not at rock bottom. She is a judge on the successful US version of The Voice. She guested on Maroon 5's inescapable hit "Moves Like Jagger"; TV co-stars like Cee-Lo Green are on board here too, for tracks such as "Make the World Move". The only risks are taken on the introductory bagatelle, where multiple, chorusing Aguileras coo and bass booms. She's pulled in writers such as Max Martin (Britney Spears) for insurance on tracks like the first single "Your Body" (but, ironically, it didn't chart particularly well). The album's midpoint rave banger, "Let There Be Love", is about as formulaic as club pop gets. But it resonates effectively, like much else here; every throb and ooh in the right place.

----------------------------- says:

The TV talent show “The Voice” changes lives — particularly the lives of its judges. Through his participation in the program, Cee-Lo Green completed his transformation from austere, intellectually challenging Southern hardcore rapper to roly-poly crowd-pleasing everyman. Maroon 5 was dead in the water before frontman Adam Levine turned himself into an overexposed chart-topping celebrity with moves like Jagger. Blake Shelton was a second-tier country singer whose best-known song was about a dog; now, he’s Nashville’s Entertainer of the Year.

Yet the rising tide has not yet reached Christina Aguilera, the cannon-voiced pop star who has often attempted to distinguish herself from her peers through her authenticity. Aguilera has never needed computer enhancement to blow the roof off the club, and has often acted as if she knows it. There’s an athletic quality to her use of melisma that makes her a natural for a competitive singing show. On “Bionic,” her 2010 set, she exchanged the organic quality of her voice for something more freeze-dried and modern. That didn’t connect with listeners, and with “Lotus,” the old, familiar Aguilera is back, steaming up 12 tracks of stylistically varied, hook-heavy pop that’s subtle as a sledgehammer and looking to capitalize on the success of the splashy show she judges.

And in case you’ve forgotten her side gig, she’s brought along her co-stars: Cee-Lo and Shelton sing showy “Voice”-style duets on “Lotus.” (She already paired with Levine on “Moves Like Jagger.”) Unsurprisingly, these are two of the least effective songs on “Lotus.” “Just a Fool,” with Shelton, feels handsome but perfunctory, and “Make the World Move,” which sounds like a wannabe soda commercial, is as goofy as everything Cee-Lo is involved with these days. Max Martin and Shellback, the calculating superproducers responsible for goosing up tracks by Britney Spears and Taylor Swift, have been retained by Aguilera, yet as catchy and randy as “Your Body” is, her voice is too big to fit their spreadsheet comfortably.

“Lotus” works best when Aguilera leans on the talents of collaborators who take a few more chances — careful, neatly circumscribed gambles, but gambles nonetheless. Lucas Secon, a former alt-rapper who lately specializes in pushing pop stars a few inches out of their comfort zones, outdoes himself on “Red Hot Kinda Love,” which manages to swagger despite a quirky beat. “Cease Fire” makes good use of a marching band. The slow-building ballad “Blank Page” was co-written by the veteran Australian pop singer Sia Furler, who has always had a firm hand with a sweeping, anthemic melody. It’s a naked attempt to recapture some of the self-affirmative majesty of “Beautiful,” Aguilera’s best-loved song, but Aguilera revisits that territory so enthusiastically it’s hard to begrudge her the trip.

Throughout the set, Aguilera behaves like she has something to prove, and a contest to win. As gauche as that may seem, she’s a fighter, and pugilism brings out the best in her. She knows this could be her last opportunity to recover the momentum she lost on “Bionic,” which muted her most explosive extremes. This time, she’s not repeating that mistake.


The Independent says:
3 out of 5 stars

It's a strange time to be Christina Aguilera.

Her too-long-coming electroclash album tanked because Lady Gaga was all over that stuff. Furthermore, she reckons she's now considered "too fat" by the industry. Lotus, however, is the sound of Xtina coming out fighting. Its best moments are its electro-pop numbers. Token lung-bursting ballads notwithstanding, we won't be seeing Xtina at the Superbowl again. But that's fine. The dancefloor is her home now.


Digital Spy says:
4 out of 5 stars

Christina's fourth studio album, 2010's Bionic, left her in somewhat of a predicament. For a global superstar it charted respectably enough - top ten in 23 countries - but its sales were shaky due to a release in the traditionally quieter summer months and there wasn't a hit to be found amongst its bloated, double-disc spanning tracklist.

She confidently described the set as a "beautiful masterpiece" at a recent event, but you'd be hard-pressed to find the same levels of assurance on Lotus. Naturally, she's rarely short on confidence - lead single 'Your Body' is a thumping, brilliantly sassy two-fingered salute at those criticising her weight - but the Max Martin production credit suggests an element of safe-playing.

It's not necessarily a bad thing either. Other notable knob-twiddlers include hitmakers Alex da Kid and Shellback, who allow her to seamlessly flit between sexy and playful on the brassy 'Red Hot Kinda Love' and Guetta-styled club diva on 'Let There Be Love' without sounding contrived or confused. In fact, their ability to reign in her chameleon-style approach to music gives it the kind of cohesion where even the three-and-a-half minute 'Lotus Intro' has single potential.

The ballads are left for the album's back-end, though the drag in pace is countered by their impressive delivery. Special mention goes to 'Blank Page', which sees her at her most unnervingly honest, confessing: "I know there's pain, but people change/ Lord knows I've been no saint" over nothing more than a piano. The result, like the album's namesake, is an elegant yet robust collection that should see her through these uncertain times.

Tracks to download: 'Army Of Me', 'Red Hot Kinda Love', 'Let There Be Love', 'Blank Page'
If you like this, you'll like: Kelly Clarkson, Pink, Leona Lewis


Slant Magazine says:
3 out of 5 stars

Christina Aguilera is her own worst enemy. Judging by her recent interviews, in which she calls her 2010 flop, Bionic, "ahead of its time," and her early work "more daring" than that of her teeny-bopper compatriots, the best promo she could do for her new album, Lotus, is none at all. The admirably forward-thinking, if not forward-sounding, Bionic got a bum rap, but it should be people like me who say it, not her.

Picking up where that album left off, Lotus opens with an electro-pop intro that samples M83 and features an Auto-Tuned Aguilera proclaiming her latest manifesto: "I sing for freedom and for love/I look at my reflection/Embrace the woman I've become/The unbreakable lotus in me, I now set free." But in an obviously calculated move, the rest of Lotus seems designed to appeal more to fans of her previous studio albums, and its lead single, "Your Body," was co-produced by Max Martin, the Swedish knob-twirler at the helm of all of those hits by Aguilera's fellow former Mouseketeers she inexplicably deemed less daring than "Genie in a Bottle."

If a pop song is only as strong as its hook, though, then "Your Body" is a heavyweight, allowing Aguilera to tear it up during the chorus, and it features the kind of provocative single entendres we've come to expect from the singer, even as her tatas and bits are strategically concealed on the album's cover (which, for the record, looks like an ad for a feminine hygiene product): "We're moving faster than slow/If you don't know where to go/I'll finish off on my own." But if Aguilera and her label really wanted to ensure her comeback, an even safer bet would have been the album's other Martin-assisted track, "Let There Be Love," a virtual hybrid of recent club bangers by Rihanna, Britney, Katy, and Ke$ha.

Aguilera has an infamous mean streak, and it often comes out in her songwriting, which is partly what sunk Bionic. But with the exception of the abrasive "Circles," on which she tells her foes to "spin around in circles on my middle finger," Lotus largely checks the attitude at the door and focuses instead on self-empowerment anthems like the dramatic and defiant "Best of Me." The rest of the album's slow songs don't fare quite as well: The pretty vocal runs at the end of "Sing for Me" aren't enough to save the otherwise too-bombastic and rote power ballad, while "Just a Fool," an out-of-place country-pop duet with Blake Shelton, feels like a cheap cash-in. (For those keeping count, Aguilera has now recorded duets with all of her fellow judges on The Voice.)

By virtue of the fact that Lotus is Aguilera's shortest album since her debut, it boasts less filler, but also fewer obvious standouts. Produced by Lucas Secon, who scored a hit of his own in the '90s with the quirky "Lucas with the Lid Off," "Red Hot Kinda Love" effectively combines an old-school hip-hop loop, vocal samples, a catchy pre-chorus, and an even catchier chorus. The album's biggest surprise, though, is the raga-infused "Cease Fire," which employs a marching band and a carefully constructed collage of background vocals to bolster Aguilera's vaguely apolitical and shockingly non-schmaltzy call for peace. More songs like these would have made for a truly great album, something that, the first half of the double-disc Back to Basics notwithstanding, has thus far eluded her.