Damn, Christina. Why are you so damn defensive?
She’s a Grammy winning bombshell with a shelf full of Grammy Awards and platinum albums. Rolling Stone named her one of the 100 greatest vocalists of all time before she turned 30. She has a cushy job judging aspiring singers on one of TV’s highest-rated shows. Still, Christina Aguilera constantly finds herself fighting some unnamed enemy and adopting a defensive stance in her music. A decade since she staked her claim to adult respect with Stripped, the whole act is getting kinda tired.
Of course, Christina’s also never had to face down a flop before. Her last album, Bionic, was a commercial failure and didn’t exactly send critics into a tizzy, either. Personally, I thought there were a couple of good songs, but it was a bit messy and schizophrenic. Judging by the length of Lotus (17 tracks) and the variety of styles she tries on over the course of the album, Christina still hasn’t learned her lesson.
Despite a career lasting nearly 15 years, Christina’s never really had her own identity. There’s a lot to be said for eclecticism, but on Lotus it just sounds like Christina and her team of writers and producers (a veritable army) are trying their best to make her sound like someone else. Who else exactly? Well, depends on the song. “Just A Fool,” a rocking duet with fellow “Voice” judge Blake Shelton, strongly recalls Kelly Clarkson’s superior duet with country star Jason Aldean “Don’t You Wanna Stay.” The piano ballad/Grammy bait “Blank Page” will undoubtedly draw comparisons to Adele’s “Someone Like You.” “Around the World” just might give you a Rihanna flashback or two, while other songs have similarities to material from P!nk and Lady GaGa. Furthermore, with the possible exception of “Just a Fool” and “Blank Page,” much of those songs have a second-tier feel, as though they’re castoffs, the other artists’ “B” material.
To make matters worse, Christina swirls her songs in subtext: alternately coming off as unnecessarily angry and petulant or oversexed. “Army Of Me” revisits the theme of the decade-old “Fighter,” while “Cease Fire” revisits the same song musically (and adds some Beyonce cod-military vibe as well.) “Circles” is incredibly immature, as its’ lyrics is basically a slight variation on the old “sit and spin” insult you used towards the annoying people in high school, and “Shut Up” just seems like an excuse for Christina to use as much profanity in a four minute song as she’d like to. I’ve already spoken quite a bit about the way I feel re: Christina throwing her sex in her fans’ face and calling it empowerment via songs like current single “Your Body.” It’s a shame that someone as vocally blessed as she is feels the need to show off (and sing about) her cooch and tits as much as she does. She’s starting to approach Janet circa Super Bowl territory. We get it. You like sex. Now sing about something else.
At the end of the day, the only thing that makes Lotus even vaguely tolerable is Christina’s voice. I’ve done a lot of complaining over the years about her not using her voice properly and toning down her propensity to be showy. Initially, I chalked her reliance on oversinging up to immaturity, but on this album’s “Sing for Me,” she does the vocal equivalent of a pig rolling around in shit-spitefully oversinging (practically shrieking at times) to make a point. It’s intolerable, and makes me, as someone who has been a fan since “Genie in a Bottle” and sees tremendous potential in her, extremely disappointed.
…not that Christina or her (dwindling) legion of fans will care. After all, Christina’s too bad ass to worry about things like criticism, right? Those of you reading (assuming you’re not Xtina stans) might wanna pay attention though. Lotus is horrid, a prime example of arrested development and an unfortunate case of a great voice wasting her talent. Avoid like the plague.