Christina Aguilera has a manifesto and on “Lotus,” it”s upfront and center. Her new album, out Nov. 13, opens with a self-important, autotuned declaration set to a trance-like chant, that her rebirth is here: “submerged from her pain, broken pieces,” this “songbird” is beginning again and she needs to speak her truth: “I say goodbye to the scared child inside. I sing for freedom and for love. I look at my reflection, embrace the woman that I”ve become. The unbreakable lotus in me, I now set free.”
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But she”s not done yet. She may have just as well called the album “Phoenix” since songs about rising from the ashes dominate the collection by theme, if not by number. The spunky”Army of Me” is “Fighter” 2.0. She”s a scrappy one, about to rise up against those who shackle her. Yeah, we”ve heard it before. On rhythmic “Best Of Me” she once again goes after whoever has been putting Christina in a corner. “I won”t let you bring me down…you”ll never get the best of me.” Even on “Sing For Me,” the slow grooving mission statement on why she does what she does, she ends up sounding slightly defensive on a tune that is otherwise a glorious set piece.
When she”s not busy reminding us that, despite all the tribulations, Aguilera is a survivor, there are some wonderfully crafted and delivered dance songs on here that save the album. The exuberant “Red Hot Kinda Love” has a playful, “Groove Is In The Heart” vibe that feels like that first spring day when you get to roll the windows down. The old-school R&B bouncy vibe of the highly-processed “Make The World Move,” a collaboration with fellow “The Voice” mentor Cee-Lo, has a message about “turn up the love/turn down the hate” that goes down easy when surrounded by such a palatable beat.
Too often, though, the album feels labored, especially first single, the salacious “Your Body.” Even on luscious dance twirler, “Let There Be Love,” co-written by Shellback and Max Martin, the seams show. It clearly takes a village to create an Aguilera album: some of the songs have seven co-writers. She makes like Gwen Stefani as she adopts a patois for the shape-shifting “Circles” and it feels like she just is desperately grabbing for hipness when she says “Motherf***er” at the end. Hey Xtina, do you kiss your son with that mouth?
Despite its faults, there are a few stunners on the album, including the ballad “Blank Page,” written by Sia, Aguilera and Chris Braide. It”s a heart stopper of a ballad about the impossible desire to undo the damage done to a loved one and the request for a fresh start. Aguilera sings dramatically over a solo piano. For some, it will be too treacly, but for many Aguilera fans, it will hit just the right note.
A less breathtaking but just as welcome entry is “Just A Fool,” Aguilera”s duet with another “The Voice” mentor Blake Shelton. Aguilera sounds like former collaborator Linda Perry (with whom we still think she did her best work) on the “yeah, yeah, yeah” portions and she over sings, but Shelton rises to the occasion and plays the perfect partner. Could a country hit be in her near future?
After the commercial misfire that was “Bionic,” Aguilera seems to want to retrench a little and focus on what she does best, which is belt and belt she does here. Despite some missteps, the songs that work here really, really work. Yes, she is still “The Voice.”