Christina Aguilera is one of the most powerful singers of her generation; is a friend to raunch, and an expert at making it broadly palatable; never lets tabloids get the best of her; has made it safe for still-relevant mid-career pop stars to take sabbaticals for judging reality-TV competitions; hasn't had a worthy hit in quite a few years; and has maybe forgotten what Christina Aguilera does well.
Lotus is Aguilera's fifth original studio album in English since 1999, which in pop-star longevity terms is a slow drip. But consider that a strength: Aguilera imprinted herself far more authoritatively than many of her contemporaries and those who followed her. She is, and has been, unmistakable.
Which is why the anonymity of much of Lotus is its biggest crime. All around her, female pop stars are making pop that is forward, modern and often complex, while Aguilera is playing it straight.
Largely that is by working with Alex da Kid, who of all of the breakthrough pop producers of recent years has the dullest, most monochromatic style, mistaking scale for emotion. Of his contributions, only on Best of Me does Aguilera push her voice beyond comfort.
Also, there are job requirements to fulfill. She collaborates here with two of her fellow judges on The Voice: with Cee Lo Green on the dull Make the World Move, and with Blake Shelton on the surprisingly warm Just a Fool.
There are flashes of the Aguilera of old, though. Her voice veers volcanic on a pair of slow-build ballads, Sing for Me and Blank Page. The single Your Body is sweaty and bold, and Around the World, which has flecks of reggae, is gauche and aesthetically vulgar in the way Aguilera once proudly was. As ever, Aguilera's talent is in taking something tacky and making it beautiful.