IN RECENT years, Christina Aguilera has weathered a flop album (the faddy Bionic), a flop film (Burlesque) and a divorce. But she didn’t make her name bellowing “thanks for making me a fighter” for no good reason.
Christina Aguilera: Lotus
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Like her fellow former Mouseketeer and teen queen Britney Spears, who can currently be seen in full lights-on-but-no-one-home mode on The X Factor USA, Aguilera has crossed back over to TV success, as one of the coaches on the US edition of The Voice. However, the vocal powerhouse – the only singer under the age of 30 to make it on to Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Singers list back in 2008 – is not ready to hang up her larynx yet and has come out swinging on her latest album, Lotus, which she has named after “an unbreakable flower that survives under the hardest conditions and still thrives”.
Aguilera has described Lotus as “a celebration of the new me”. An understandable tactic, given that sales were not so hot for the robot Aguilera of Bionic. Apparently this time it’s all about “self-expression and freedom”. Well, she is certainly finding new ways to express herself with very few clothes on. The album cover looks like an airbrushed re-enactment of The Birth of Venus, with Aguilera emerging from a giant lotus flower, the lower half of her naked body bathed in celestial light. Make of that what you will, or laugh and proceed directly to the music.
Lotus Intro is more an Auto-tuned pep talk than a good way to open an album when you have something to prove. We are informed that Christina intends to “leave the past behind and say goodbye to the scared child inside”. This is exactly the kind of cod-philosophical pop star nonsense-speak which the Pet Shop Boys lampooned recently on Ego Music and is best saved for Alanis Morissette albums. But, no, she’s not done yet: “the unbreakable lotus in me I now set free”.
What she actually meant to say is that in her quest for commercial resuscitation, she has decided to collaborate with big-cheese producers Max Martin and Alex Da Kid, who have helmed hits for Britney, P!nk, Katy Perry and Kelly Clarkson.
The Christina comeback games were officially declared open a few weeks ago with the relentless, blaring single Your Body, and she continues the fightback by letting rip on Army Of Me, not the song of the same title by Björk, more a retreat to safe ground which she has dubbed Fighter 2.0.
The rest of Lotus is similarly proven territory, though Aguilera and her team leave nothing to chance, throwing everything into the execution of this album. She emotes for all she’s worth on Let There Be Love. The only surprise about this formulaic pumping rave pop production is that it’s not a Calvin Harris tune. Electro R&B number Red Hot Kinda Love is chipper to an almost desperate degree, with Aguilera practically yodelling the hookline. Make The World Move is a bells-and-whistles gee-whizz duet with Cee-Lo Green which doesn’t let up on its soul pastiche routine until it strikes a pointy pose to finish.
It’s almost a relief to make it as far as the first ballad. But there is to be no napping through Sing For Me, a far from subtle commentary on the joys of singing – or, more likely, what she takes to be our joy at her singing. In case anyone requires more persuasion, she unleashes that growl which passes for passion and leaps like a champion showjumper over a sledgehammer key change. Vulnerability is not in her vocabulary, which is a problem when interpreting a lyric such as “I’m a blank page waiting for you to bring me to life”. Aguilera appears to have a surfeit of life, throttling what might have been a touching song with her power vocal. She turns Just A Fool into a vocal wrestling bout with country singer Blake Shelton, who sounds like he’s got the cry in his voice to convey the chastened message of the song, but instead has to engage in a shouting match with his diva partner.
Doesn’t he understand it’s a war zone out there? Christina is here to tell us as much on Cease Fire, cramming in the conflict metaphors and overwrought Rihanna-style ragga-inflected stridency. Those military drums keep right on beating through Best Of Me and she sticks with the ragga flavour on Around The World, an uplifting clarion call to love – across borders, baby – with the most resounding chorus on the album.
If there is any victory to be claimed for Aguilera here, it is that at least she bludgeons the listener into submission with actual songs rather than the thinly veiled excuses of some of her peers.