By Hung Nguyen, Staff Writer for The Current
After Maroon 5’s “Overexposed,” audiophiles anxiously watched to see if the other artists they fell in love with for their unique styles would jump on the bandwagon of pop cliches. As a voice of her generation, it was expected that pop-soul queen Christina Aguilera would rise above this and stick to her guns. Aguilera once famously stated in defense of rapper-singer contestant Moses Stone of NBC’s “The Voice,” “You need to be versatile in this industry. ‘The Voice’ doesn’t need to be some auto-tune, over-ad-libed, powerhouse vocalist.” Aguilera’s new album “Lotus,” however, indicates that she is not exactly practicing what she preaches.
It is very difficult to distinguish “Lotus” from any of the recent trends in mainstream pop radio. “Around the World” and “Circles” will likely cause Aguilera fans to do a double-take. Tracks like “Red Hot Kinda Love,” “Let There Be Love” and “Your Body” are great songs to move your hips to, but they fall short of the depth and power Aguilera fans have been accustomed to from their idol.
Although most pop music predictably relies on sex as a source material, Aguilera has always been able to transcend the genre cliches and present a classier and more original version of sexuality than other innuendo-prone artists. She takes the same approach with “Lotus,” referring to it as “a very multi-layered, very heartfelt record.” In an interview last month, Aguilera claimed that “Lotus” is her opportunity to “share all the different sides of me, as a woman, and as a creator and an artist. Part of that is being a mom. Part of that is sexuality. Part of that is vulnerability. Part of that is aggression and angst. All those pieces make me who I am.”
From statements such as these, it is very clear that “Lotus” is intended to be a revival of Aguilera’s career. It is an album created to capitalize on a generation of listeners who were not around when chart-topping hits like “Fighter” and “Beautiful” were released.
Disappointingly, “Lotus” shows an artist who is struggling to stay true to herself but also cater to a post-Gaga audience. The prowess Aguilera demonstrated to pop listeners in the early 2000s is still strongly present, if somewhat compromised. Though this effort is substantially better than her prior release, “Bionic,” it pales in comparison to her previous work.
The album is still a good effort, and is by no means a failure. In the stripped-down powerful ballad “Blank Page,” Aguilera uses nothing but piano and her Grammy-winning vocals to once again enrapture listeners. “Army of Me” and “Sing For Me” are two new, great self-empowerment anthems. Soulful, heart-wrenching “Best of Me” is well-executed and reflects on the emotional pain Aguilera has overcome with in recent years. She even recruits two fellow coaches from “The Voice,” with Cee Lo Green appearing on “Make the World Move” and Blake Shelton collaborating for “Just a Fool,” her first successful country single.
Fans who still want to hear their Xtina sing her heart out will find enough songs to satiate their six-year wait for her signature soul-pouring swells. Some may even interpret “Lotus” as a successful transition into the 2012 pop scene. For now, those songs represent a distraction, and the album lacks cohesion as a single work. “Lotus” is another triumph for Aguilera’s voice “no pop artist could ever rival her soprano” but not for her creativity.