OF COURSE, the downside to success is that all those people who really do know better suddenly become reluctant to say “No”. Even when they really, really should.
It’s fine in the case of Mariah-like demands — candles and a red carpet outside a hotel at 2 in the morning anyone? Then the indulgence of popstar whims is almost to be encouraged for the sheer nuttiness of it all. On those more serious issues though, the career defining kind, the lack of a reality checking voice of reason can be fatal. And so it is that, four years on from her 9 million selling Stripped album, Christina Aguilera returns with Back To Basics, a two-disc concept album.
To momentarily give all concerned the benefit of the doubt, as a basic premise, Back To Basics‘ two-disc concept isn’t a bad one. As a super successful singer, who grew up on an enviable diet of gospel, soul and jazz, she wants to pay tribute to the acts who inspired her. Christina wants to revive that adventurous, sexy soul spirit. And in the case of Disc 1, that’s exactly what she does, with spectacular results.
Aided and abetted by two of hip hop’s most creative activists — elder and all round scratchy master DJ Premiere and loopy young funkster Mark Ronson — the first half of her double disc opus is a low-down and dirty masterpiece. Thrusting with the same raw, ass-shaking funk as first single, ‘Ain’t No Other Man’, it’s one sweaty back-in-the-day soul grind after another.
From the sexy R&B blur of ‘Intro (Back To Basics)’ to the blaxploitation horns of ‘Slow Down Baby’ and the filthy ghetto strut of ‘Still Dirrty’, it’s vintage soul made vital with cut’n’paste samples and hip hop grime, and it’s phenomenal. Raging with mighty grooves and gospel ecstasy, it’s a career defining moment. A leap which demands she be taken seriously, while elevating her to the rarefied air of the genuine artist.
Sadly, CD 2 brings her crashing straight back down again. With CD 1 having taken care of her vintage gospel and R&B aspirations, it befalls Disc 2 and long time collaborator Linda Perry to capture her love of jazz. And it’s not pretty. Sure there are some fun moments — ‘Candyman’ is a goodtime 1940s big band romp, ‘Nasty Naughty Boy’ has her going all Jessica Rabbit — but it’s cartoon at best. It also doesn’t help that the smoky atmosphere is repeatedly crashed — see ‘Welcome”s incongruous soft rock and OTT Christina ballad ‘Hurt’.
As a fan only download or even free bonus disc, CD 2’s comic book jazz, akin to Madonna’s Dick Tracy soundtrack, would be entertaining enough. As half of the Back To Basics concept, it’s painfully mis-judged distraction from what is otherwise, a sleazy must-have of an album and no doubt the album of her career.
© Dan Gennoe, Yahoo! Music, 14 August 2006