Breakups and Breakdowns

Rihanna's new album sputters out of control at several turns, while Christina Aguilera is moving on

By Doug Rule
Published on December 6, 2012, 6:04am | Comments

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Christina Aguilera

Christina Aguilera

(Photo by Cobrasnake)

IN CONTRAST TO RIHANNA, Christina Aguilera opens her seventh album as enticingly as imaginable. The quiet, building ''Lotus Intro'' conjures the eccentric electronica of Goldfrapp, and suggests Aguilera learned from her sloppy, jarring 2010 set Bionic.

To a certain extent, she has. Aguilera sounds a lot happier on Lotus, and she mostly sings about making love, not war. Lotus is loosely a breakup album, charting a path from a seemingly bitter divorce in 2011 to a time when she mostly just wants to break loose and dance.

Of course, here, as ever, Aguilera can be a lot to take – subtlety and modesty have never been her strong suits. She generally sings – and acts – as if her life depended on it. Only the shouters – and strong-willed – survive. First single ''Your Body,'' even apart from its awful love-em-and-kill-em video, is Aguilera in total overdrive. She sees to it that her voice always overpowers the sauntering, staccato beats – a mean feat. It goes far beyond her fantastically sassy 10-year-old hit ''Dirrty'' to become unattractively filthy. Even worse is ''Circles,'' on which she childishly taunts haters – and her ex – to ''spin around in circles on my middle, middle finger.'' It makes you want to ask her point blank: How's your baby boy doing, Ms. Aguilera?

Yet when she's feeling footloose and carefree, she shines. The playful dance jams ''Red Hot Kinda Love'' and ''Around The World'' may put you in mind of Back to Basics, Aguilera's bold and fun underrated gem of an album. She even bests Madonna with ''Let There Be Love,'' which sounds like a dead-ringer for ''Girl Gone Wild,'' but without any embarrassing lyrics.

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Meanwhile, the marching, mid-tempo ''Cease Fire'' is demanding and forbidding, and may take you a couple listens to warm up to. But in the end, this stirring and mature track is what makes Lotus gel as a package. Aguilera chants as much as she sings on ''Cease Fire,'' and the music gives way to an angelic chorus as she calls for peace and harmony and individual resolve to end hopeless fighting and casualty. ''Calling out, white flag, I surrender,'' she chants. ''Hear me now, make it stop, we can do better…In the end, what is it worth, what is our legacy?''

Breakups don't have to be totally bitter, she's saying – or involving spins on middle fingers.

DOWNLOAD THESE: ''Red Hot Kinda Love,'' ''Cease Fire,'' ''Best of Me.''