Christina Aguilera, "Lotus" (RCA)
"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 unmistakable.
Which is why the anonymity of much of "Lotus" is its biggest crime, more than its musical unadventurousness or its emphasis on bland self-help lyrics or its reluctance to lean on Aguilera's voice, the thing that makes her special. All around her, female pop stars are making pop that is forward and modern and often complex, while Aguilera, who used to play that role but is perhaps beginning to see herself as an elder stateswoman, is playing it straight.
Also, there are job requirements to fulfill. She collaborates with two of her fellow judges on "The Voice," probably just to give them duets to perform this season: 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. As ever, her talent is in taking something tacky, and making it beautiful.
JON CARAMANICA, NEW YORK TIMES
Green Day, "Dos!" (Warner Bros.)
"Dos!" is a far better record than "Uno!," the first of three planned new albums by the "American Idiot" hitmakers. In fact, it's an excellent Green Day album -- one of its best -- a catchy, revealing work that surprises with its willingness to explore ideas that the band members may not have invented, but which, fed through the trio's filter, become theirs.
If "Uno!" seemed to be a closed system when it arrived in September, with Green Day working to flex its '90s punk muscles, on No. 2 the group has gone open-source, allowing in a much wider range of sounds and styles. "Dos!" opens and closes with Billie Joe Armstrong-sung solo guitar numbers, and in between travels all over. The trio borrows techniques and sounds that suggest everything from the Kinks and the Creation to Eddie Cochran, Joan Jett, Cheap Trick and the Strokes. There's joy here, and inspiration.
Songs such as "Wild One" are immediately hummable, slabs of rock impressive in weight and delivery. "Lady Cobra" sounds like Motorhead if singer Lemmy Kilmister were sucking helium. The daring "Nightlife," a funky, slow-rolling rap track with an offbeat reggae guitar strum and a funky Mike Dirnt bassline, is one of the weirdest songs the band has recorded. Yes, Green Day recorded a rap song, featuring a rapper named Lady Cobra. And it's not terrible.
That it can jump from that to the British Invasion-suggestive "Wow! That's Loud" is a measure of the breadth of work here. All the songs might sound a little like something else, and the result is a record that jumps around like a mixtape of undiscovered hits.
RANDALL ROBERTS, LOS ANGELES TIMES