Christina Aguilera may be lacking a few things, but confidence isn’t one of them. In a recent slew of interviews to promote her comeback album Lotus (in which she repeatedly asserted that 2010′s much-maligned Bionic is a “masterpiece” that can only be understood by “real music people”), the now 31-year-old has stated that one of her aims with the project is to “inspire new singers with raw talent”. What Lotus actually does is serve as a warning list of what not to do when blessed with a powerhouse voice like Aguilera’s. More often than not, the songstress shouts and oversings her lines with more force than ever before (yes, even including Back to Basics), and it’s easy to feel like you’ve just spent an hour being screamed at by the time the album comes to a close.
But when Aguilera gets her vocal delivery right, she really gets it right — like on the Sia-penned “Blank Page”, which is one of those rare perfect pop ballads that are more readily found on Aguilera’s albums than any of her contemporaries’. Her voice here is nothing short of magnificent; both grand and delicate, reaching powerful heights without ever going overboard. Aggie’s from being the most technically proficient female pop vocalist out there, but when it comes to sheer emotional depth, nobody but Adele is in her league.
When the serial warbler’s not belting her brains out, she’s flaunting her versatility by playing musical dress-up. The Shellback-produced “Let There Be Love” is surprisingly stunning for a song that’s essentially just a rehash of one of Chris Brown or Usher’s derivative dance hits; Blake Shelton duet “Just a Fool” is the country-rock power ballad that Kelly Clarkson would kill for; and the Rihanna-esque “Circles” sees Christina firing shots at her haters over a distorted backdrop of riot grrrl rock. But even as she’s impersonating her peers, Aggie still makes each song her own — something she was unable to do on Bionic, which played like one big pretentious karaoke session thinly disguised as experimentation.
But despite a handful of strong tracks, Lotus is still a very confused album, and its apparent theme of positivity and inner-strength is only erected long enough for Christina to knock it down. One minute the preachy diva is demanding a cease fire and asking the world to “turn down the hate”, and the next she’s barking at her naysayers to “shut the fuck up” and threatening to stick her finger where the sun doesn’t shine. Too often, she comes off as either pigheaded or bitter, which doesn’t mix well with all the usual egocentrism and self-indulgence that’s contained within all of her albums.
Lotus isn’t The Emancipation of Xtina or the long dreamt about sequel to Stripped that many of us were hoping for. But it is a step up from Bionic and a foot in the right direction, and even with all of its flaws, it’s still packing more personality than recent fare from Beyonce, Britney, Rihanna, and Leona. The cheeky “Red Hot Kinda Love” is worth the price of admission alone — it’s a career highlight for Aguilera, and the most fun she’s sounded since “Candyman”.
Must download: Red Hot Kinda Love, Just a Fool, Your Body, Let There Be Love, Blank Page, Cease Fire.
Skip: Sing for Me, Army of Me, Empty Words, Shut Up, Around the World.
For fans of: Loud noises, histrionic pop divas.