Back to Basics
ive the girl her props: Christina Aguilera’s stretching with Back to Basics, essentially doing a kinda concept double-album, her sound drenched in the hot jazz, soul and blues of the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s. In 2006. And bringing it to the realm of mainstream pop. Did I mention that about half the material here was co-produced by DJ Premier?
Fortunately, the Primo tracks are all grouped on disc one, which makes for a convenient listening experience. Disc two was produced entirely by Linda Perry, and is by and large a complete throwaway. “Save Me from Myself” is an affecting track, largely just Aguilera’s naked voice and a softly plucked acoustic guitar (with some orchestral touches in the background); unfortunately, it’s an exception to the rule. For every one of those, there are three like “Candyman” (he “makes all the panties drop,” in case you were wondering), a faux-swing track that’s really just a stylistic mish-mash—just what you’d expect from someone who seems to have modeled her career on Diane Warren. (Perry produces as well as writes voluminously for tons of pop stars, yet still (or perhaps because?) doesn’t seem to know “what’s goin’ AHN?!”) This being a Linda Perry disc, you also get ridiculously overblown ballads such as “Hurt” and “The Right Man.” Fear not, you can safely ignore this second disc. The first one about makes up for it, anyway.
“Makes Me Wanna Pray” sets the tone nicely, looping a tasty sample of a Traffic piano riff (Traffic!), and adding a huge gospel choir to fine gospel-licious effect; it was produced not by Premier but by Rich Harrison—a tidy, impressive leap from the likes of “Crazy In Love.” It’s followed by “Back in the Day,” which finds Aguilera shouting out the likes of Etta James (duh) and Coltrane (oh?) while Primo scratches sweetly behind her. First single “Ain’t No Other Man” pulls a Moulin Rouge—settling itself somewhere in the indeterminate past (‘40s, maybe?) while simultaneously sounding contemporary. It’s sassy and sexy, and one of the year’s best pop singles.
The rest of disc one of Back to Basics moves similarly, grooving along while Aguilera does her thing. The production is impeccable, and the singing is of course fine; the star reins in her vocal cords more than usual, thankfully (though not entirely). A truly soulful pop album, at least for one disc, Back to Basics is one of 2006’s best when Linda Perry’s fingerprints aren’t present.