'Good but not great', decreed the critics from Buttf*ck Wherever, referring to Lotus, the fifth studio album proper from Christina Aguilera. They're right, of course. But why is great demanded of Aguilera when middling is accepted from her contemporaries? I suppose her god given talents and self inflated ego act as her own worst enemies, turning around to bite her in the arse when she so often fails to execute her interesting ideas.
Pop’s great chameleon in the past she has adopted the colors of other performers-of soul icons like Etta James on Back to Basics(2006) and Electronic artists Ladytron and Le Tigre for Bi-On-Ic(2010). Here, she's swiped her peers producers- Alex Da Kid (Rhianna), Max Martin (Britney) and Shellback (Pink), to show she can still compete in a world dominated by plastic pop. She succeeds. You just wish she'd continued to forge the more original path she once set for herself.
The problem with Lotus is that Aguilera confuses baring ones soul with making statements of intent, so beyond the beautiful Sia collaboration, 'Blank Page', where she lets the sentiment scar the delivery, we rarely get to see whats beneath the bravado, the shocking aesthetic and the call to arms.
She riles against the critics she claims she doesn't read, which can be fun. On the delicious 'Circles' she asks her haters to "spin around in circles on my middle, middle finger' and on 'Shut Up', with its beat box rhythm and exasperated air she releases a rising refrain of "running, running and running your mouth off, just shut up. Shut the F*ck Up!"
Yet she keeps herself frostily away from introspection, returning over and over to her own demons and how she’s been hard done by, droning on about it on stalling ballads 'Sing for Me' and 'Best of Me'. What intrigues on 'Army of Me', the album's opening track, has grown stale by its midsection on 'Cease Fire', which takes an interesting military beat and wastes it on a plodding, repetitive canticle to her own patience. She says she’s over all the haters, but she bangs on about them so much its hard to believe her, making her claims of survival and rebirth seem as hollow as Gaga’s Mother Monster malarkey.
Things are better on the anthemic 'Empty Words'. 'And Light Up The Sky' contains a bridge in which delightful discombobulated backing vocals provided by Christina bob against one another. But she just can't contain herself. She goes caterwauling into the chorus so that more experimental moments get trapped like a rabbit in headlights before her fog horn vocals ground them into roadkill as "The Voice", continues her march of redemption.
It works best when she drops her tired agenda. The ride is the thing on Max Martin and Shellback’s contributions 'Your Body' and 'Let There Be Love', both odes to the saying ‘the best way to get over a body is to get under one’ which mix elements of Bookashade and Dave Guetta for present day pop perfection. While Lucas Secon cut ‘Red Hot Kind of Love’ is the highlight, revisiting the bouncy good time of 'I Hate Boys' and 'My Girls' from Bi-On-Ic, where she coo’s, chants and baby talks so unselfconsciously her joy is infectious.
Her duet with with CeeLo Green, Make the World Move is felled by comparison, it coming directly after it on the album It suffers also in comparison to her previous stab at collaboration with him, the excellent Nasty, which failed to make the final cut for both Back to Basics and Burlesque. Mainly it suffers in comparison to her beer cans in the air duet with country crooner Blake Shelton, Just A Fool. It’s country by numbers, but here they add up, so that while it lacks any genuine emotion, the blending of their voices hit all the right notes.
Lotus is no worse than recent releases by Rhianna or Maddonna and a dam sight better than anything Katy Perry has ever released. However the thing that made Aguilera so interesting, her artistic ambition, has been muted. There’s very little to complain about here, but very little to shout about either.