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Published: Sun, November 18, 2012 @ 12:00 a.m.

Christina Aguilera

Album: “Lotus” (RCA Records)

Grade: C+

Christina Aguilera is easily one of contemporary music’s best voices. She’s got pipes that music-lovers need to hear at a time when Top 40 radio features studio-enhanced vocals and award shows are full of lip syncing. That’s why her fifth album, “Lotus,” is somewhat disappointing — not because it isn’t good, but because it isn’t great.

Sure, it’s an improvement from 2010’s “Bionic,” a chaotic album that is Aguilera’s only one not to reach platinum status. “Lotus” is more focused, thankfully, but not as satisfying as her first three releases.

The new 13-track album is the singer’s 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. Sing it, girl.

Another standout is the piano tune “Blank Page,” co-written by Sia, whose work with Aguilera on “Bionic” is that album’s highlight. “Sing for Me,” too, is great and sounds like a personal anthem for Aguilera, who has gotten a boost recently as a coach on NBC’s “The Voice.”

Where the singer falls short is on what are supposed to be the “fun” songs, such as “Red Hot Kinda Love,” “Around the World” and “Make the World Move,” which features a barely heard CeeLo Green. The first single, the Max Martin-produced “Your Body,” is also a miss.

It’s almost like Aguilera isn’t getting the best material from the songwriters and producers on “Lotus,” which includes 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, Associated Press

One Direction

Album: “Take Me Home” (Syco/Columbia Records)

Grade: C

One Direction’s sophomore album, “Take Me Home,” comes one year after the group released its debut, “Up All Night,” in the United Kingdom. The latter came out in America just eight months ago, already has sold 1.3 million units and is still in the Top 25.

The wholesome-looking quintet has joined Justin Bieber in the affections of girls every- where, with their puppy eyes, trendy haircuts and rather good voices. And the boy band’s new album delivers on the brief, vaguely catchy songs that appeal to both the romantic and the wild side of teenage girls.

The record relies heavily on perky and melancholic guitars, and on romantic invitations such as “I want to be your last first kiss” on “Last First Kiss,” which then veer into the leery “Tonight let’s get some” on the very honest and upbeat first single, “Live While We’re Young.” It’s full of riffs that haven’t been heard since the 1990s boy bands took their final bows.

The album feels relentless in rhythm, sometimes even duringSFlbthe ballads, with a homogenous sound and message — like a teenage boy who says all the right words in a rush to get what he wants. But this time they’re only singing the right words to get to your wallets and adoration. And they’re most likely going to get it.

—Cristina Jaleru, Associated Press

Beres Hammond

Album: “One Love, One Life” (VP)

Grade: A

Legendary crooner Beres Hammond, one of the most recognizable voices in all of Jamaica, is back with “One Love, One Life,” a 20-track double album with steady grooves and some bona fide classics.

Self-produced and recorded in his Kingston studio, Hammond has organized a record that splits into matters of the heart (“One Love”) and social consciousness (”One Life.”)

“No Candle Light” is instantly amazing, Hammond is ever the gentleman on the tender mid-tempo groove “In My Arms” and the romantic ballad “Lonely Fellow” is sincere.

The second album is calm and refreshing, full of songs that will uplift. One bright spot is the title track, where Hammond makes it clear that he isn’t “singing for fame.”

The 57-year-old came on the music scene in the 1970s, and he has a voice that doesn’t seem to age. He adds another jewel in his crown with his new album.

—Bianca Roach, Associated Press


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