Christina Aguilera is on a mission. After her 2010 album “Bionic” underperformed and became the first of her English audio albums not to receive a Grammy nomination, she is clearly on the quest for a hit. Unfortunately, this ulterior motive gives Aguilera’s latest album, “Lotus,” a desperate feel at times, despite the fact that her vocals are as impressive as always.
Many of the tracks on “Lotus” are definitely meant for the dance floor. “Let There Be Love” and “Your Body” are two standouts in that category, featuring catchy choruses and infectious beats. Songs like “Make the World Move” — a duet with CeeLo Green, although he’s barely in the song — and “Army of Me” are more forgettable. “Army of Me,” in particular, lacks originality and sounds as if it could be sung by Katy Perry, Jennifer Lopez or even Rihanna. Even the lyrics are lackluster: she begins the chorus with the lines, “One of me is wiser / One of me is stronger / One of me’s a fighter / And there’s a thousand faces of me / Yeah and we’re gonna rise up,” which all sound like they’re straight out of songs we’ve heard before, maybe even songs by Aguilera herself. Most of the upbeat dance tracks on “Lotus” seem specifically engineered to be played on the radio — it’s like Aguilera is just throwing them all out there at once, hoping one of them sticks around long enough to become her next number one.
Aguilera is at her best when she can freely showcase her powerhouse voice that is honestly unparalleled by many of today’s other popular singers. On “Sing For Me” and “Blank Page,” she’s able to do just that, and the results are impressive. The simple pairing of Aguilera’s voice with a piano is enough to call to mind one of her biggest hits to date, “Beautiful,” which reminds us that a strong voice and powerful lyrics are enough to create a great song. If only there were more tracks like these on “Lotus” — tracks in which Aguilera could show off her huge range without competing with loud, pounding noise in the background — then the album might be more memorable as a whole. Instead, the ballads sound slightly out of place sandwiched between the album’s many dance tracks.
The message of “Lotus” is clear: Aguilera is looking for a comeback. Over and over again, she sings about redemption. In “Best of Me,” she sings, “My walls crumble within / But I’ll take it all on / And get up when I fall / Till the last curtain call.” This idea of barely hanging on but somehow surviving is repeated throughout the album. While the concept is empowering in theory, Aguilera actually sounds bitter most of the time. Although a few tracks break up the tension, the whole “you can’t bring me down” attitude gets tiresome, especially toward the end of the album.
In a world where artists who can reliably deliver good live performances are becoming increasingly rare, Aguilera is already a standout. However, “Lotus” doesn’t do Aguilera any real favors in terms of distinguishing her from the pack of current female pop singers. If only she would stop trying so hard to score another hit and actually focus on creating an album doing what she does best — harnessing that amazing voice — then maybe Aguilera would have a better chance of coming across as original instead of as desperate to remain relevant. And that would be an album worth listening to.