Christina Aguilera has been a prominent force in the pop scene for quite some time now, but it often seems Christina Aguilera the tramp recieves more attention than Christina Aguilera the artist. It can be debated whether or not her transformation from beautiful young teen bubble-gum pop star on her debut album to "dirrty" attention striving whore-iffic idol to prositutes on "Stripped" was a good career move. Not exactly a great move for her image. However, she has at least seems to care about what she does, and actually takes time making the music she does. She actually writes a vast majority of it and is interested in growing and trying new things as an artist. This is rare in pop today, because some of her rivals such as Ms. Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson insist on releasing what is essentially the same album year after year.
However, Aguilera is only on basically her third major album in her near decade career. This is quite surprising, and the long haitus between albums at least gives the impression that she strives to make sure the album is worthy of release. The jump between her debut and "Stripped" was quite monumental, though the album was still inconsistent. Though she hinted at potential unique-ness on the album, it came across as her trying too hard. Not only that, the album was ridiculously long and the different tries at all kinds of various genres prevented the album from flowing together nicely. Still, she showed growing potential and I actually found myself somewhat looking forward to what she had to offer next.
Four years later, and just when I thought she may have fallen off the face of the earth, I hear the news of the release of a new double album by the pop superstar. This shocked me a bit, and left me a bit skeptical. A double album? Stripped was long enough as it is, how could a double album possibly work? Then seeing her on television was a bit of a shocker, not because of the fact she was on television, but because she was fully clothed and her hair was a normal blonde color. Back to her old teen beauty look. I admired the return to her former beauty. "Back to Basics". The title of the album. It made perfect sense. Hmm...but how would it sound?
Upon hearing the first single "Ain't No Other Man" as I was flipping through the dullness that is radio today, my first impression was I wasn't that impressed. A typical pop song with a somewhat interesting beat and background music that reminded me of something they would play at a boxing match. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't great. Still, curiosity got the better of me and thus I picked the album regardless.
So here it is, "Back to Basics". It has all the hints of being her most accomplished work to date. Potentially as close to a masterpiece she can get. And after a rather rigorous day of listening to this album...I would have to say this is true. Somewhat....
The Two Discs are vastly different. Disc One is supposed to be more of the same Christina Aguilera sound from the past. Latin flavored vibes, hip hop vibes, sultry balladry, and the typical pop hits. It even includes a sequel to her former hit "Dirrty" named appropriately "Still Dirrty". Disc Two is supposed to be a step into a new direction, something less accessible and Aguilera seemingly trying to show off her musical taste by mending together all of her influences into her sound. An interesting way to go about it, and it left me intrigued.
The problem here is this album is wildy inconsistent and schitzophrenic. The first disc basically ends up being typical pop fare. Sleep inducing pop. Not sleeping inducing in the mellow sense, sleep inducing in the fact that it's incredibly dull and boring. There are very few moments on here that actually succeed in grabbing the listener's attention, and I was actually surprised to not hear one song that sounded to me like a potential hit single besides the obvious "Ain't no Other Man". In fact, all the mid-tempo balladry and R & B flavored tracks end of meshing together so horribly bad that deciphering the songs from one another becomes an annoying chore.
The only tracks that are fairly decent are the gospel flavored "Makes me Want to Pray" featuring Steve Windwood, backed by a gospel choir. It's an upbeat song and somewhat fun to listen to. "Slow Down Baby" is an interesting hip-hop flavored track that sounds similar to the single "Ain't no Other Man" but differs enough to be a good song on it's own. "Still Dirry" manages to maintain the vibe of the initial "Dirrty" track on "Stripped", just with a little added swing vibe that would certainly make for a sultry dance track at your local dance club... I suppose. As for the rest, a true yawn-fest...and then it just gets downright irritating and cheesy with the last track "Thank You ( A dedication to fans)". With samples from phone calls to miss Aguilera praising her, the cheese factor is way too high.
<b>Disc 1 Rating:</b> 2/5
Now, onwards my friends! In "Back to Basics" Disc one was the dull dark tunnel, dripping with dirty water and infested with rats. But as it comes to a close and you step out into the light, then you have entered what is disc two. An entirely different experience. The disc that makes this album completely schitzophrenic. It's full of vibrant creativity and music artistry I never knew she was capable of. Just listen to the intro track "Enter the Circus" and you'll notice something strangely different in the vibe of this album.
And this leads directly into the first actual track "Welcome". A soaring beauty of a track with swelling strings and her voice not even over-exaggerating itself. It has that circus vibe, and then at the end of the song it stops and it begins in a waltzy kind stomp and a some guy whistling over top. A very creepy yet eccentric vibe that I haven't heard from a pop artist in quite some time.
Then comes in the retro swing music vibed "Candyman" with some rather whore-ish lyrics but those can be easily overlooked by the catchiness of the song that takes you right back into the 1940's. Trumpets blazing, all the big band instruments you can think of, a true retro throwback. A really interesting track to say the least. Give it a listen, you will probably be surprised. Hopefully pleasantly surprised.
And then it stops, and a round of applause comes in...the lights dim. The screen goes black and white. In comes Christina softly saying "Hey there big boy" and then in comes a song that sounds like something Frank Sinatra would do, then her sultry vocals come in...smoothly. Cabaret style. Here we have a new retro flavored track covering another genre. "Nasty Naughty Boy" is the name. Very interesting. So suddenly we've heard circus music, jazz, sultry swing, and now straight up cabaret. What is going on? And why is this so interesting?
And it's not over yet, the journey continues. Another cabaret influenced song comes on by the name of "I Got Trouble". This one is interesting, because it has that crackling sound of a record player and it's recorded in the distance. It also sounds very bluesy as well. Her vocals fit this style perfectly. Especially since she's not trying to oversing in the typical way she usually does.
"Hurt" is a creepy vibed ballad. Not a bad ballad by any means, just not as interesting as the rest of this disc. I can see this being a potential hit nonetheless. "Mercy On Me" comes in with some funeral sounding church organs, and a choir, then in comes some pounding fiona apple -esque piano. Another brilliant track.
And if you want to hear something else not done typically by this artist, listen to "Save Me From Yourself". Just some gently plucked acoustic guitar and Aguilera singing in almost a whisper. A beautiful track that has a very raw feel to it and is not over the top at all.
And there you have it. Disc two, a true tribute to those classic styles of music, with a litte bit of her own flavored added for good measure. Leagues better than disc two.
<b>Disc Two Rating:</b> 4/5
Overall, what we have here is brilliant and dull all rolled into one package. One part that takes pop into a new direction and one that keeps that dull trend going. It's vivid and lifeless at the same time. The main gripe here is that this thing could be nothing short of excellent had she cut out most of the first disc and kept the second disc and made one ten or eleven song album. Perhaps she will learn with her next release that more doesn't have to mean better. Once she discovers that and filters through the bad she could put together something lovely. Until then, we've got a flawed album that hints at greatness but is bogged down by excess boredom. Still worth a listen regardless.