Christina Aguilera
Back to Basics


4.0
excellent

Review

by Amanda Murray STAFF
August 27th, 2006 | 31 replies


Release Date: 2006 | Tracklist


August 28, 2003. Remember the date fondly. August 16th can belong to the King, April 5th to a certain burnout rockstar, December 8th to Mr. Ono. August 28th should be remembered for a slightly different reason. Rather than marking the transition from life to death or musician to martyr, this date marked the passing of a musical torch which in time might well prove as significant as these other immortalised moments in musical history. So what happened on this date that rivals the death of Elvis Presley or the emergence of Beatlemania in America (easily dated to February 9, 1964)? If a hint were to be dropped, say the mention of the MTV Video Music Awards or Madonna, a certain image would surely appear to you instantaneously. The Kiss. Oh, the kiss. The drama. Madonna and Britney, the Queen and the Princess, the most important pop artists of their generations. But that’s not the one. Wait about two seconds and look a few feet to the right. Not quite as iconic, is it? The other kiss never did gain the attention or furor or adolescent fawning. But the kiss between Madonna and Christina Aguilera, at the time Britney’s lesser rival, that was the real moment of pop inheritance. Perhaps it may not seem so at present, but consider this.

In interviews following the August 28th awards show, all three involved artists defended the kiss as metaphorical, symbolising a spiritual passing of the torch. Britney was seen as the heir to Madonna’s throne, but she got fat and pregnant and middle-American. All the easier to realise that Christina Aguilera was the rightful heir all along. While Britney might have made more mention of Madonna as an inspiration, Aguilera borrows from Madonna where it counts. Madonna is, of course, the undisputed Queen of reinvention. If she didn’t invent reinvention, mark her down for reinventor of reinvention. She’s done it all, but never taken a step back to revisit an old trend of her own, always moving forward on her own musical path even if it means borrowing from other artists of the past, present, and future. For her latest reinvention in 2005, she reached back to the cob-webbed dredges of late 1970s disco. Perhaps it’s time for her to hang up the pop cloak, because her protégé was ripe to one up her just a year later.

Aguilera is no stranger to reinvention. She’s miles behind Madonna, but she has twenty years to make up for it. In her seven years of world-wide fame, Aguilera has adopted three diverse, incongruous personalities, musical styles, fashion senses, and attitudes. She began as a sweet, innocent, girl-next-door teenager, then transformed into a lewd, feminist diva three years later. In 2005 she launched her second reinvention, appearing on red carpets styled after Jean Harlow and Marilyn Monroe. These blonde icons of the past were sexy in their own right, but far more respectable about it than Stripped-era Aguilera. By 2006 she had integrated this obsession with all things long bygone into her musical career. Not only did she admire the looks, she admired the sounds. Whether the music was bombastic or delicately subdued, the songs were inevitably bare, honest and raw. Stripped. Right, but this album is called Back to Basics instead.

Her long-awaited third English record is double-album that is actually benefited by being a double. The first disc is rather traditional Aguilera fare musically, with the second more heavily visiting the jazzy blues of pre-war vocalists. Like Aguilera’s sprawling mission statement Stripped, the music can at times be too self-indulgent to stomach, but she deserves credit for being confident and unafraid to express herself even after the near-universal flak she received for her hypersexual feminist opinions in 2002. Back to Basics does visit many topics she has already covered on earlier albums, including misguided social and gender commentary which distracts from the music, such as "Still Dirrty", which seemingly serves as a Cliffs’ Notes version of her previous album. Similarly unnecessary is "F.U.S.S.", or "*** You Scott Storch", an elegy to her dearly-departed Stripped producer. It’s funny to listen to from the outside in, and aside from the lyrics the song is smooth, but here’s to betting she’ll regret her pettiness in ten years time. Other revisited topics aren’t so unwelcome, however, especially when they are presented on exceptional songs. "Oh Mother", yet another ode to her single mother and middle-finger to her abusive father, is yet more proof that Aguilera works best when the subject matter actually means something to her, when the song is more than just something to sing.

She also spends a significant portion of time on the first disc paying lyrical homage to her idols, even if the music for certain songs is cemented in the present. On "Intro (Back to Basics)" and "Back in the Day", she name drops musical legends like Otis Redding, Gladys Knight and Billie Holiday, and praises them "ground breakers", "innovators", and "originators". Aguilera is clearly inamoured with her predecessors, and it is refreshing to see a modern pop artist who is not only aware that music existed before Michael Jackson, but is eager to introduce it to a new generation of listeners. Throughout much of the album Aguilera comes across as spellbound by these legends, and it is fascinating to witness her attempts to modernise the music without making it lose the charm that made it so successful and captivating in the first place all of those years ago. Aguilera and her co-producers/writers (most notably Linda Perry), do nothing short of a masterful job of balancing the modern and the classic.

In terms of song highlights on the first disc, "Ain’t No Other Man" is a speedy and infectious horn-driven track which served the album well as the first single, as it is the most successful blend of the two time periods this record straddles. Previously mentioned, the emotional "Oh Mother" is a strong song both lyrically and musically. "Here to Stay" falls into the annoying feminist category lyrically, but its strength is musical. As previously stated, Aguilera must earn some respect for refusing to back down or fold under pressure. Evidently Aguilera is aware of her headfastedness, as it is the top of the song. The first-disc songs not mentioned here tend to sound too much like typical Aguilera songs. Not filler, but songs like "Understand" and "Without You" suggest no growth or experimentation as an artist. "Thank You" is self-indulgent and not worth the bother of listening.

But the real strength of Back to Basics lies in the second disc. Listening to this record while preparing to review it, I wanted to skip the first disc and move straight ahead to the second. The first disc offered nothing unexpected or challenging. Sure there was a vaudevillian song or two, but even the Spice Girls managed that. So it is on the second disc that Aguilera earns her praise. Here she lets her influences rule the roost. Each song is a step into a different music sphere, reasonably authentic to the original style, but equally tailored to Aguilera’s style and personality. Though there are only nine songs on this disc, each one is endlessly listenable. Just when one song cements itself as your favourite on the record, the next track comes on and throws your favouritism into doubt. "Welcome" would be a flat-out masterpiece if it didn’t lose its way in the middle, though the opening string melody probably makes up for it. "Candy Man" is lyrically pretty dumb and cheekily vulgar, but, much reminiscent of the Spice Girls’ "The Lady is a Vamp", the song is just downright fun to listen to. Aguilera’s brief scatting is enjoyable as well. "Nasty Naughty Boy" is a take on sultry swing and is nothing short of sexy, in the way an intentionally vulgar track like "Dirrty" could never be. "I Got Trouble", "Hurt" and "Mercy Me" slow things down as Aguilera explores slow, delicate piano jazz, and while the songs aren’t as flashy as the opening tracks of the second disc, they shine nonetheless. "The Right Man", one of many tributes to her husband of near-one year, is a song improved by the beautiful violin arrangement. In fact, the arrangements throughout this album deserve notice. Her use of brass, piano and violin stands out particularly and are used effectively both to recreate musical styles of the past but also to enhance the songs.

My personal favourite song on the entire two discs is "Save Me From Myself". For a singer who’s trademark is loud, obnoxious belting, the subtle, quiet vocal work on this track is as far away from traditional Aguilera as a death metal song. The song is tasteful and almost seems to want to slip in undetected. Because of the contrast with her normal material and with the music on the rest of the album, the respite of "Save Me From Myself" particularly stands out.

Back to Basics is still a transitional record for Christina Aguilera. Just as every other record she releases will be. Why? She’s a born reinventor. Aguilera is not an artist who will ever be satisfied or settled. For years to come, she’ll continue to surprise and challenge listeners, and every once in a while Aguilera will release an innovative record of undeniable quality, like Back to Basics. But it will also provide for many years of uncertainty and missteps, like, say, Stripped. Sound at all familiar? For every Like a Prayer there is an American Life, for every "Like a Virgin" a cover of "American Pie". And you thought Britney Spears inherited Madonna’s place on that fateful night? Think again.



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user ratings (171)
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3.4
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other reviews of this album
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Comments:Add a Comment 
"Freshly Baked"
August 27th 2006


583 Comments


OMG, a Moz review, how long has it been?

Fantastic review as always. I can never give this poor girl a chance, she has a nice voice, but her songs are just flat out unappealing to me (besides "beautiful" and "come on over")

morrissey
Moderator
August 27th 2006


1688 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

Yeah I called it self-indulgent which is basically the same thing you said. But I'd give it a 6/5 for the.5 second Lil Kim sample where she says "Aguilera".

I'm sure my rating will be lowered over time, my 4 was mostly for the second disc which I really like and find to be a huge step forward. Aside from a couple of songs ("Oh Mother" especially), the first disc is just same old 3 territory. So my rating is heavily biased to the second disc.

Mostly I needed to have the same rating as munky magik

The Jungler
August 27th 2006


4827 Comments


I really want to listen to this, I think its all on Rhapsody. Anyways excellent review, I didn't expect anything less.

Iluvatar
Staff Reviewer
August 27th 2006


16088 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I'm in general agreement, though I seem to enjoy the album more. Nice work regardless.

Jom
Staff Reviewer
August 27th 2006


2675 Comments


Hooray for Mozzarella reviews.
I haven't heard this yet (save for the BIG single).
However, I will say that the review was rather brilliant.

Tyler
Emeritus
August 27th 2006


7926 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Very nice review.

What I like about "Save Me From Myself" is not that her voice is subdued, but rather it's stripped from an onslaught of reverb and the like. It actually sounds real.

morrissey
Moderator
August 27th 2006


1688 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

Yeah but aside from stripped production she also calms down her voice and lays off the vocal acrobatics which she insists on showing off in every song. She doesn't always have to belt it out to be powerful.

JohnXDoesn't
August 28th 2006


1279 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

i like this review. i listened to this album and was surprised how much this girl had matured as an artist and performer. i was going to review it myself but saw it was already done. plus after several listens i didn't feel i had the appropriate feminine perspective to do it complete justice, as objective as i try to be i still believe some women make music generally for women. or at least write/perform songs for them. just like their are mens fragrances and womens. both smell good, but they are geared toward different sexes just enough to make a difference.

i like the funky and aggressive stuff on here best. the ballads less so, and on a few cuts she seems preoccupied with the whole retro/diva/1940's vamp thing more then I care for. Seeminly singing show tunes of one degree or another. but those are small quibbles for such a strong album. you did it big justice

chrystalis
August 30th 2006


1 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

WEIRD...I bought Paris Hilton (yup-shoot me. Shoot me now) and Xtina the same day and after listening to Xtina's entire Cd, I threw(ok I use the offive shredder) Paris away after just one song. I mean,what was I thinking! Paris Vs Xtina? Heelloo

Christina is unbelievable, as always. One song hit me so hard emotionally and kept me in tears after listening 200X over. 'Hurt' speaks everything,word for word. About my own loss and my own regrets about losing someone, my mom.

The entire is fun, funky and great reminise of the pre-war era.. Its hard to believe such POWERFUL vocals coming from a petite .

Worth every penny....

The Jungler
September 1st 2006


4827 Comments


Hurt is such a good song.

Comes close to rivaling the NIN song of the same name.

Storm In A Teacup
September 19th 2006


12780 Comments


"Ain't No Other Man" is quite the song.
Nice review too, the intro really drew me in.

CanonInD
September 24th 2006


359 Comments


this album is kind of really good

Eliminator
December 11th 2006


2067 Comments


I still need to get this.

MrKite
December 27th 2006


5020 Comments


Is Still Dirrty a single?
Great review, btw. I think it's the first of yours I've read.


morrissey
Moderator
December 29th 2006


1688 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

You should read more! Not that there are many!

As far as I know "Still Dirrty" is not a single nor should it ever be, but she might break out the chaps for one more go round.

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
December 29th 2006


17920 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

This rules.

MrKite
December 30th 2006


5020 Comments


Thank you. And I actually just read your review for Gwen Stefani's latest album. Good stuff.

skipdog81
May 9th 2007


19 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5 | Sound Off

Great job writing your review, although I whole-heartedly disagree with any merit placed on this album.

MeowMeow
September 17th 2007


662 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

The first disc is incredibly boring besides a couple songs. Second disc is pretty amazing, though.

drewhnovak
October 28th 2007


41 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

The singles make this album. Most everything else is really lackluster. For a pop album, I find it strangely needing hooks. Although the second disc is rather good. It's really the only one I listen to. This Message Edited On 10.28.07



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