Back to Basics
REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/01/2006
To be honest, I had forgotten that Christina Aguilera existed as a musical entity. Most of the attention she has received the past few years has been as a result of, well, her attempt to come off as the world’s biggest slut. Attitude does go a long way sometimes in the music business, but hers just seemed wrong.
Now, with 2006 ‘s Back To Basics, Aguilera is attempting to completely redefine her music and her image. I have to give the lady credit; I don’t think any of the other pop princesses would have the balls to release a double album. Granted, this isn’t The Wall, but Back To Basics does not give off the impression of an artist resting on her laurels. This is probably as avant-garde as Christina Aguilera can get, which is the album’s biggest selling point.
Unfortunately, that “experimental” quality doesn’t arrive until about halfway through the running order. Up to that point, you’ve more relatively standard, Christina Aguilera pop/hip hop fare. She does show off her chops but goes a little overboard. By that, I’m talking about the vocal gymnastics Aguilera has a tendency to engage in. Yes, we know you have a great voice, but please refrain from trying to hit every damn octave in every song!
There are a few choice tracks to be found towards the start of the disc, which hook you in immediately. “Makes Me Wanna Pray” is a delicious funk/gospel attempt, and here Aguilera’s vocals come off as genuinely impressive and effective. I love the horns thrown into “Slow Down Baby” and the Stevie Wonder-esque 70s soul of “F.U.S.S.” “Ain’t No Other Man” was the leadoff single but I don’t really see why; there’s no great hook to draw in the listener.
Once you arrive at “Enter the Circus,” this record truly takes off. It travels the road from conventional to eccentric and totally changes style and mood. Instead of sounding contemporary, it looks back to the 40s through the 60s and the female singers of that era. I absolutely love this portion of the album, a place where Aguilera needs to direct her attention. Crafting retro-styled yet still retaining a hint of modern music is a rare gift to possess.
“Enter the Circus” doesn’t even have Aguilera singing; instead, it sounds like a Sgt. Peppers outtake, of all things. “Welcome” should have been the lead single, as it seems to capture what this album was supposed to be about. It's one that could fit into any later Beatles or ELO album; the orchestral arrangements alone are outstanding.
“Candyman,” sees Aguilera just having a little fun, throwing the proceedings all the way back to the 40s. Someone made the comment that this is essentially her version of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” and that sentiment is not misplaced. “Hurt” is a suitable grandiose power ballad and “Mercy On Me,” taps right back into the gospel/blues but is effective this time.
Lyrically, no one expects Aguilera to be this generation’s Dylan, so when she talks about subjects like sex it’s expected. It is not poetic, it is not mind blowing, and if you don't expect that you'll be just fine.
I was originally going to downgrade this album but the more I listened to it the more I loved the back nine of the running order. Should this have been a double LP? Hell no. Does that fact hurt the overall strength of the disc? Indeed it does. However, I love the second half so much it overcomes the misgivings of the first half.