Christina Aguilera is one of contemporary music’s best voices. That’s why her fifth album, Lotus, is somewhat disappointing — not because it isn’t good, but because it isn’t great.
It’s an improvement from 2010’s chaotic Bionic. Lotus is more focused, but not as satisfying as her first three releases.
This is her first music offering since she filed for divorce two years ago. And when she’s emotional, she sounds best.
The title track kicks off the album nicely as Aguilera sings about starting over. On Best of Me, she sings: “Words cut through my skin, tears roll down my chin, my walls crumble within.” And later in the song she sings in a beautiful belt: “I will rise undefeated, I will not let you bring me down.” You just want to cheer her on.
Another standout is the piano tune Blank Page, co-written by Sia. Sing for Me is great and sounds like a personal anthem for Aguilera, who has gotten a boost as a coach on NBC’s The Voice. Circles, with its punk rock hook, screams to be remixed by Nicki Minaj and Rihanna.
Where the singer falls short is on what are supposed to be the “fun” songs, like Red Hot Kinda Love, Around the World and Make the World Move, which features a barely heard Cee Lo Green. The first single, the Max Martin-produced Your Body, is also a miss. Martin is a little better on the dance-heavy Let There Be Love.
It’s almost as if Aguilera isn’t getting the best material from the songwriters and producers, including Alex da Kid (Eminem’s Love the Way You Lie, B.o.B’s Airplanes), Lucas Secon, Supa Dups, Claude Kelly, Bonnie McKee, Tracklacers, Steve Robson and others. Her excellent voice deserves excellent songs.
— Mesfin Fekadu,
Sweet Tooth is a curious hybrid: part spy novel, part romance, it’s really a work of fiction about fiction.
The central character is Serena Frome, a Cambridge student recruited for Britain’s domestic spy agency in 1972 by a professor and old MI5 hand. She is tapped for a mission called Sweet Tooth to secretly funnel money to writers and intellectuals thought to hold a dim view of the Soviet Union. Her qualifications are her “rather gorgeous” looks and reputation as a voracious reader. But she jeopardizes her career by falling in love with Tom Haley, the writer she’s meant to covertly enlist in MI5’s battle against communism.
McEwan bases the espionage plot on actual events during the Cold War, when the CIA surreptitiously funded various cultural enterprises to bolster support for the West. His spy craft is compelling, his love story less so. Serena has the emotional maturity of a teenager and the politics of her parents’ generation.
Her oft-repeated literary opinions — “I was a simple sort of reader,” she says — suggest that one of her primary roles is as a foil for Tom, who has more sophisticated taste. And indeed, the novel is packed with the postmodern tricks Serena professes to hate.
Whether you like the book may depend on whether you agree with Serena or with McEwan’s alter ego Tom: “I liked life as I knew it recreated on the page,” she says. “He said it wasn’t possible to recreate life on the page without tricks.”
— Ann Levin,
‘The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 2’ Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
It’s a sad goodbye from The Twilight Saga, with its last installment, Breaking Dawn — Part 2, hitting the big screen. The soundtrack reflects a choked-up melancholia that lingers over the sound like dust over old boxes of family photos.
The final film steps away from the romantic dilemmas of previous outings into a tense confrontation between vampire factions. Yet the album is more focused on delivering a soulful sound that is neither too arcane, nor too mainstream. It’s just quirky enough to be embraced by the hordes of teenagers who’ve grown up alongside Bella and Edward.
Nikki Reed, who plays Rosalie Hale in the film, makes an appearance on the instrument-stripped piano ballad All I’ve Ever Needed, alongside her husband and former American Idol contestant Paul McDonald. Green Day, the biggest act on the soundtrack, is bland on Forgotten. Ellie Goulding gives the album a touch of playfulness with her energetic Bittersweet.
And the rest of the songs alternate between diaphanous guitars like POP ETC’s Speak Up or dreamy tunes like Feist’s Fire in the Water and James Vincent McMorrow’s Ghosts. There’s also haunting strings, like on New for You by Reeve Carney, best known for playing the lead in Broadway’s Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.
It’s all a bit wailing, like a highly enjoyable mourning parade that performs at its own death.
— Cristina Jaleru,