Let me begin this review by stating that I was a huge fan of Christina’s last album, Bionic. I realize that most of the critics hated it and that it was a commercial flop, but I consider the majority of it to be forward-thinking, artsy pop. And that’s exactly what she was aiming for. She literally spent over a year traveling around the globe and writing songs with her favorite artists, including Sia, who’s since become quite the hit-maker, Ladytron, Peaches, Santigold, Nicky Minaj and M.I.A. (She also wrote with Goldfrapp, but nothing from that collaboration made the album, oddly enough.) And what do all of these artists have in common? They’re all beloved by critics. I’m sure they’ve all received negative reviews at some point, but for the most part they’re highly-regarded. And, you know what? I thought that all of Christina’s collaborations with these artists were superb. But I can kind of see why the album flopped. The first single, “Not Myself Tonight,” which was one of only two songs on the album that Christina didn’t co-write, was not one of the album’s best tracks. It was catchy enough and had an anthemic vibe, but the lyrics weren’t particularly original. It kind of felt like “Dirty 2.0.” Then there was an awards show performance she did of “Woohoo” where her outfit had a light-up heart drawing attention to her crotch, which was essentially what the song was about. There was also a problem with the order the songs appeared in on the album. Placing all of the ballads back-to-back in the middle of the album was a risky decision and it just didn’t pay off. Nobody wants to hear that many ballads in a row. At least not every time they listen to a particular album.
So, yes, as much as I love Bionic, I can see why it ultimately wound up being a low point in Christina’s career. What I’m perplexed by is the fact that Lotus is actually an awful lot like Bionic. It was supposed to be another Stripped and revive her career and make fans who didn’t like Bionic fall in love with her all over again, but… That doesn’t seem to be happening. And the reason for that is likely that it’s Bionic 2.0. Which begs the question, what do I, the Bionic-loving fanboy, think of Lotus? Simply put, I think it’s a mixed bag full of tasty sweets and razorblade-filled apples.
OK, so that’s not a simple answer. But the album, and my reaction to it, is quite complicated. First of all, the first single, “Your Body,” was like Dirty 3.0. Why anyone would think that’s a good idea is beyond me. I guess they were hoping sex would sell. Unfortunately, it didn’t. It might have been co-written and produced by Max Martin and Shellback, but it just failed to live up to its promise. The beats didn’t feel especially original and the lyrics were offensively unoriginal. It also didn’t help matters that most fans liked the leaked demo version of the song — featuring the lyric “all I wanna do is fuck your body” — much better than the version that made the album, which simply goes, “all I wanna do is love your body.” You’d think they would have went with f-word after Cee-Lo Green and P!nk have had huge hits with songs that prominently featured it, though they obviously replaced the word on radio versions of those tracks. Likewise, Maroon 5’s recent hit “Payphone” features an awful lot of swears on the album but was recorded swear-free for the radio. Putting the “fuck your body” version on Lotus should have been a no-brainer. I’d love to know why they didn’t. Were they afraid of a parental advisory sticker, as if that would keep the album from selling? I suppose that’s possible. Walmart wouldn’t have sold it like that. But she could have easily gave Walmart a version with “love your body,” which she’d obviously want to give to radio as well. And another thing — the production of that “Your Body” demo was actually superior to what wound up on the album. It might have sounded slightly out-dated, but it also sounded like a nice homage to ’90’s Italo disco.
Another low point on Lotus comes in the form of the first proper song on the album (following a fairly enchanting intro track), “Army Of Me.” Christina couldn’t stop talking about how it was “Fighter 2.0,” but that just made people biased against it. After all, most people don’t like it when artists merely try to rewrite the same song over and over again. It’s not bad enough we had two new versions of “Dirty,” she had to re-do “Fighter,” too? That said, it wasn’t an especially bad song. I had a hard time over-looking the fact that someone other than Bjork was doing a song called “Army Of Me,” but once I got over that I was able to appreciate the song as an infectious self-empowerment anthem.
One of the album’s best tracks is “Make The World Move,” which features Cee-Lo. The beats might be a little tired, but the melody is fantastic and Cee-Lo’s vocals really liven up the chorus, rendering the whole song nothing short of vibrant. Another winner is “Let There Be Love,” a massive, synthy, techno-flavored tune that redeems Martin and Shellback for “Your Body.” It definitely deserves to be heard in clubs all around the world, so I sincerely hope that they’ll make it her next single and release lots of wonderful remixes.
You can also do a lot worse than “Around The World,” which features a loud, marching beat and enough repetition to ensure the title doesn’t leave your mind anytime soon. But, hey, it apparently took eight people to write it, so it damn well ought to be good.
Fortunately, Christina saw it fit to ignore the critics who didn’t like their previous collaborations and she wrote another song with Sia, the album’s gorgeous, inspired ballad “Blank Page.” “If I could un-do, that I hurt you, I would do anything, for us to make it through,” Christina sings. You can’t help but wonder if she’s referring to her recent divorce. In any case, it’s a touching and honest gem.
In spite of its mis-steps, and the fact that it isn’t nearly as good as Bionic, I am going to say that Lotus is a must for any Christina Aguilera fan. If you don’t already like her, I don’t think it will change your mind right away, but it is one of those albums that gets better each time you listen to it, so give it a chance. -Michael McCarthy