"Rise up, Lotus, Rise, this is the beginning" Christina Aguilera coos on the opening track of fifth album Lotus. She may have licked her wounds after the disaster that was Bionic in 2010 but Lotus sees one of pop's signature voices claw back into the fray.
The Goldfrapp-lite opening intro mentioned above sees Christina whisper over a wobbly R&B meets electronica beat. It's a kooky and slightly drawn out opener but it hints that she might be about to head into the futuristic sonic textures Bionic promised but didn't deliver. In reality it's a misnomer with the album zooming into an uptempo but straightforward pop vein for a solid six tracks.
Surprisingly, it gels fairly well early on. Zippy, zesty danceable rhythms highlight Christina's pipes as well as any mournful ballad when done properly. Army Of Me, as she's pointed out, is a fairly obvious nod to Fighter and it's "You won't stop me message". It's not quite as impressive but it's a solid slab of fist-pumping pop. Red Hot Kinda Love is a cheeky but enjoyable sex jam that feels more flirty and knowing than some of her previous attempts at proclaiming her sexuality. Make The World Move is an awkward collage of soul pop and electro flourishes as Aguilera's co-judge on The Voice, Cee-Lo pops up for a warm and fuzzy ode to just getting along with everyone. It's a tad cheesy but the bouncy production and ebullient chorus make it an adequate slice of pop candy.
Next is current single, Your Body one of Aguilera's strongest pop moments in quite some time albeit one that is failing to smash on the charts. The first of two cuts co-written by hyper-successful Max Martin (Britney Spears, Katy Perry, Basically Every Big Popstar of the Last 10 Years), it's followed by the straight-up dance pop of Let There Be Love, which is a tad generic but comes equipped with a hook so big it's hard to dislike and it gives Christina plenty of moments to ad-lib and holler with the best of them.
Then comes a ballad-y chunk. The Sia penned Blank Page is truly lovely, a sister track to Beautiful that could do big things as a single. Sadly, Cease Fire and Sing For Me fall flat, letting Aguilera's own vocals become grating and misplaced when they should be soaring and uplifting.
Next up is a Rihanna "I like a bit of sex, me" style romp in Around the World which has a fun, down and dirty vibe but feels a tad slight. Circles is a bitter but oddly enjoyable flip of the bird to detractors. It's not very strong melodically but it's a rare moment of genuine personality on an album that seems to drain much of Aguilera's famed bolshiness. Best of Me is another decent if not stellar ballad that has a nice sense of melancholy to it.
A real surprise is the duet with her other Voice judge Blake Shelton on Just A Fool. Yes it's a country-pop extravaganza that's blatantly squared at US radio but it's actually a decent duet and one of the strongest songs musically on the whole release. It's one of the few songs that Aguilera nails both in terms of emotional delivery and vocal hysterics too.
The addition of the bonus tracks on the deluxe edition (The standard release for the album in many European territories) will get the hopes of fans who know that her previous album hid some gems on it's deluxe side. Sadly, they're a mixed bag. Light Up The Sky is sweet but unmemorable, another mid-tempo track too concerned with schmaltz then letting Aguilera shine vocally. Empty Words is something of a hidden gem with some nicely drawn lyrics and a big, belt-y hook that wouldn't have been out of place on the main edition of the album. Shut Up is the sequel to Circles with a bleeped but still feisty hook telling imitators, haters and people of that nature to "Shut the f**k up". It's not her strongest song but it is an enjoyable slice of bratty pop. There's also a decent, if not dazzling remix of Your Body by Martin Carrix to enjoy too.
Decent but not dazzling, could in fact be applied to the majority of Lotus. It's certainly not a stinker and hits enough sweet spots over it's lean run time to please fans and suggest that there's life in Christina as a big pop star. Sadly, it never quite delivers the knockout moment you know she needs to really succeed.
Lotus is out now on RCA.