Back to Basics

Back to Basics

4.4 49
by Christina Aguilera
     
 

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Plenty of pop singers talk the talk when it comes to taking chances -- but Christina Aguilera really walks the walk on this ambitious, exciting double album. The blonde bombshell sets the bar high for herself, intro-ing the disc with a promise to honor "the soul singers, the blues figures, the jazz makers" -- and later, in "Back in the Day," name-checking such giants… See more details below

Overview

Plenty of pop singers talk the talk when it comes to taking chances -- but Christina Aguilera really walks the walk on this ambitious, exciting double album. The blonde bombshell sets the bar high for herself, intro-ing the disc with a promise to honor "the soul singers, the blues figures, the jazz makers" -- and later, in "Back in the Day," name-checking such giants as Etta James and Marvin Gaye. The thing is, she sails over that bar with surprising ease, revealing an uncanny affinity for '40s-era vocal sass on the va-va-voom nugget "Candyman" and a genuine flair for old-school blues on the Billie Holiday-channeling "I Got Trouble." Much like the folks she's paying homage to, she even tempers the lasciviousness with a shot or two of church-borne testifying -- most notably on the swooping "Makes Me Wanna Pray." Not all of Back to Basics is that old-school, of course. The first disc is largely given over to tunes that let Aguilera push her pipes to the limit over sample-savvy dance floor beats -- a Gladys Knight snippet pops up in the low-slung "Slow Down Baby" -- and gritty funk bass lines (see the appropriately titled "Still Dirrty"). It's impossible, however, to listen to the disc without coming to the conclusion that Aguilera is a changed woman, having come a long way from her days as a spinner of sugary pop confections. She's no longer just playing soul-diva dress-up -- she's actually become the real deal.

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Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
When Christina Aguilera released her garish, sexually charged sophomore effort, Stripped, in 2002, it seemed that she pushed her obsessions with tweaking taboos just a little too far. Sure, she could still sing, but her music was now driven entirely by skeletal club grooves and explicit carnality. It was a bold break from the teenybopper persona she was desperate to shed, but it was overcorrective steering, taking her a little bit too far down the road toward a grotesque caricature, particularly in her ugly video for the album's lead single, "Dirrty." All this grandstanding provoked an intense reaction, not just among fans but among her collaborators, who also wondered if Christina was going a little too far, but she managed to keep from sinking largely on the strength of the ballad "Beautiful," an empowering statement of self-love that managed to dampen "Dirrty"'s impact even if it didn't erase it. It also set the stage for the next phase of her career: as an outright old-fashioned diva, much like Madonna or Cher. Smartly, she followed this path for her third album, the sprawling, deliriously entertaining double-disc Back to Basics. The title alone on Back to Basics is an allusion that perhaps Christina herself thinks she might have gone a little too far with Stripped; she stops short of offering an apology -- she even has a song where she proclaims she's "Still Dirrty" -- but this album's emphasis on songs and singing, along with the fixation with the big-band era, does suggest that Aguilera is ready to be once again seen as a world-class vocalist. Nevertheless, Back to Basics also makes clear that Stripped, for as flawed as it is, was also a necessary artistic move for Christina: she needed to get that out of her system in order to create her own style, one that is self-consciously stylized, stylish, and sexy. As the endless series of pinup photos in the album's booklet illustrates, Christina is obsessed with earning credibility through association: she dresses up as a big-band vamp and drops allusions to Etta James, Billie Holiday, and Aretha Franklin, all under the assumption that listeners will think of Ms. Aguilera as the heir to that throne. While she may have the vocal chops to pull it off to a certain extent, Back to Basics doesn't quite feel like it belongs to the classic soul and R&B tradition, even if the second disc is designed to be an old-fashioned jazzy R&B album, complete with bluesy torch songs and occasionally live instrumentation. Aguilera's instincts are too modern to make the album sound classic. She remains stubbornly autobiographical -- she disses departed producer Scott Storch on "F.U.S.S.," again addresses the abuse inflicted on her mother by her father, spends much of the album detailing her love for her new husband, Jordan, and always filters everything through a very personal filter that makes this seem like a journal entry à la Alanis Morissette (even "Thank You," subtitled as her dedication to her fans, isn't about the fans; it's about how Christina has inspired them, saved their life, or kept them going while stationed in Iraq -- all stories recounted in the voicemail that runs throughout the track). Her lyrics remain bluntly direct, particularly when she talks about sex: "Candyman" makes her cherry pop and her panties drop, while the "Nasty Naughty Boy" will receive "a little taste of the sugar below my waist." That combined with the slick, precise computerized production means that even when Christina tries to sound classic, she winds up sounding like the present. But that's what's good about Back to Basics -- even though she strives hard to be a classic soul singer here, she can't help but sound like herself, and surely there is no other big-budget pop album in 2006 that bears the stamp of its auteur so clearly. As she did on Stripped, she has gotten to indulge herself here, but where she was more concerned with sound than structure last time around, on Back to Basics she spends just as much time on song and structure, often coming up with strong, memorable ballads and dance tunes on both the dance-oriented first disc and the slow-burning second. Of course, she reveals more than she intended through her indulgence. Try as she may to sound like a classic singer from the '40s, she really seems to have learned all of her moves from Madonna in Dick Tracy; whether she's shaking her hips to a canned brass section or breathing heavily into a microphone, every move seems to have been copped from Breathless Mahoney -- and that's not just on the campily retro "Candyman" (which sounds like a rewrite of "Hanky Panky"), but it's also true on the deliberately modern numbers like "Ain't No Other Man," whose stabs of sampled brass sound straight out of early-'90s jazz-rap. When Aguilera does stray from the Madonna template here, it's to wander into Fiona Apple territory on the second disc -- with its loping piano, "Mercy on Me" is a dead ringer for anything from When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks Like a King. There are hints of a couple other artists here -- some echoes of Norah Jones on the torch songs -- but the fusion of Madonna and Fiona Apple is so inspired and unexpected, it sounds original because nobody else would have thought of it, or put it together in such wildly weird ways as Christina does here. Sure, Back to Basics is way too long at two discs and some of it doesn't work quite as well as the rest, but it has far more hits than misses and it holds together as an artistic statement (certainly more so than any other album made by one of her teen pop peers). It may be all about style, it may be a little crass and self-centered, but it's also catchy, exciting, and unique. It's an album to build a career upon, which would be a remarkable achievement by any measure, but coming after the near career suicide of Stripped, it's all the more impressive.
New York Times
"Ain't No Other Man" comes from her...double-album, "Back to Basics." It's devastating: all hard drums and horn blasts, with Ms. Aguilera delivering a series of nimble vocal runs and roaring ad-libs....How on earth will she top this?

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Product Details

Release Date:
08/15/2006
Label:
Rca
UPC:
0828768263921
catalogNumber:
82639
Rank:
60251

Tracks

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Album Credits

Performance Credits

Christina Aguilera   Primary Artist
Steve Winwood   Piano,Hammond Organ
Glenn Berger   Saxophone
Bill Bottrell   Guitar,Conga
Aleta Braxton   Choir, Chorus
Cheryl Brown   Choir, Chorus
Mathew Cooker   Cello
DJ Premier   Percussion,Drums
Richard Dodd   Cello
Terry Glenny   Violin
Ray Hermann   Clarinet,Saxophone
Ray Herrmann   Saxophone
Victor Lawrence   Cello
Rob Lewis   Bass,Guitar
Jim McMillen   Trombone
Linda Perry   Bass,Guitar,Piano,Hammond Organ,Choir, Chorus,Mellotron
Dieyelle Reed   Choir, Chorus
Eric Schermerhorn   Guitar
Danny Seidenberg   Strings
Garrett Smith   Horn
Tom Tally   Viola
Josefina Vergara   Violin
Elin Carlson   Choir, Chorus
Susan Chatman   Violin
Ivan Gilliland   Choir, Chorus
Kenya Hathaway   Choir, Chorus
Joan Ellis   Choir, Chorus
Julie Rogers   Violin
Roger Wagner Chorale   Choir, Chorus
David Hernandez   Choir, Chorus
Sharlotte Gibson   Choir, Chorus
Tony Reyes   Bass,Percussion,Strings,Keyboards
Wayne Bergeron   Trumpet
John Krovoza   Cello
Ray Yslas   Percussion
Barbara Allen   Choir, Chorus
Darrin McCann   Viola
Paul Klintworth   French Horn
Erika Jerry   Choir, Chorus
Julian Hallmark   Violin
Eric Gorfain   Violin
Angel Williams   Choir, Chorus
Raymond Angry   Organ,Piano,Clavinet,Moog Synthesizer
Daphne Chen   Violin,Soloist,Concert Mistress
Printz Board   Trumpet
Cameron Patrick   Violin
Onitsha   Choir, Chorus
Mark Ronson   Bass,Guitar,Keyboards
Meelah Williams   Choir, Chorus
Aroussiak Baltaian   Strings
Melissa Reiner   Violin
Jacinda Townsley   Choir, Chorus
Leah Katz   Viola
Diego Miralles   Cello
Alyssa Park   Violin
Francis Senger   Double Bass
Audrey Solomon   Violin
Chara Hammonds   Choir, Chorus
Damon Fox   Hammond Organ
Marisa Kuney   Violin
Thomassina Atkins   Choir, Chorus
Kevin Shannon   Choir, Chorus
Bonita Brisco   Choir, Chorus
Sonya Byous   Choir, Chorus
Roseland Holmes   Choir, Chorus
Traneen Young   Choir, Chorus
Marda Todd   Viola
Alwyn Wright   Violin
Caroline Buckman   Viola
Natalie Ganther   Choir, Chorus
Nicole Ganther   Choir, Chorus
Camille Grigsby   Choir, Chorus
Cassandra Grigsby   Choir, Chorus
Randy Jones   Tuba
Paul Ill   Bass
Richard Redd   Choir, Chorus
Jason Torreano   Double Bass
Amy Wickman   Violin
Richard T. Sledge   Choir, Chorus
Ilana Setapen   Strings
Mabvuto Carpenter   Choir, Chorus
Jherimi Leigh Carter   Choir, Chorus
Desarae Johnson   Choir, Chorus
Erica L. King   Choir, Chorus
Vernon Keith Allen   Choir, Chorus
Radu Pieptea   Violin
Joel Pargman   Strings
Traci Brown   Choir, Chorus
William Tell Taylor   Choir, Chorus
Nathan Wetherington   Drums
Raymond "Ez" Monteiro   Horn
Stephen Amerson   Choir, Chorus
Esther Marie Austin   Choir, Chorus
Sandra Beckwith   Choir, Chorus
Monika Bruckner   Choir, Chorus
Hanymons Cahra   Choir, Chorus
Charlean Carmon   Choir, Chorus
Nancy Gassner Clayton   Choir, Chorus
Carver Cossey   Choir, Chorus
Miguel Gandleman   Horn
Denise Grisgsby   Choir, Chorus
Janet Korsmeyer   Choir, Chorus
Cookie Lewis   Choir, Chorus
Lynda Sue Marks Guarnieri   Choir, Chorus
Jason McGee   Choir, Chorus
Susan Taylor Mills   Choir, Chorus
Denisha Millsap   Choir, Chorus
Yvette Andrews Mitchell   Choir, Chorus
Movement Orchestra Horns   Horn
Judith Siirila Paskowitz   Choir, Chorus
Daniel Plaster   Choir, Chorus
Rochelle Rawls   Choir, Chorus
Alyss Olivia Sanner   Choir, Chorus
Angela Joy Seard   Choir, Chorus
Section Quartet & Friends   Strings
Isabelle Senger   Violin
Anna Stafford   Violin
Garik Terzian   Strings
Chris Tedesco   Trumpet
David Sage   Viola
Victoria Lanier   Violin
Brian Macleod   Drums
Marcy Vaj   Violin

Technical Credits

Steve Winwood   Composer
Roy Hawkins   Composer
Bill Bottrell   Composer
Don Costa   Composer
DJ Premier   Producer,Engineer,Vocal Scratches
David Frank   Composer
Brian Gardner   Mastering
Rob Lewis   Composer,Horn Arrangements,String Arrangements,Vocal Producer,Choir Arrangement
Linda Perry   Composer,Producer,Engineer,Horn Arrangements,String Arrangements
Mark Rankin   Composer
Allen Toussaint   Composer
William Guest   Composer
Kara DioGuardi   Composer,Vocal Scratches
Jeri Heiden   Art Direction
Tony Reyes   Composer,Producer
Charles Roane   Composer,Producer,Engineer
Harold Beatty   Composer
Jonathan Pryce   Sample Clearance
Pamela Sheyne   Composer
Marc Jameson   Programming
Barbara Allen   Choir Contractor
Rick Darnell   Composer
Oscar Ramirez   Engineer,Vocal Recording
Eric Gorfain   String Arrangements
Christina Aguilera   Composer,Producer,Executive Producer
Jeannine Wagner   Choir Contractor
Raymond Angry   Composer
Kobie Brown   Sample Clearance
Heather Holley   Composer
Rich Harrison   Composer,Producer
Tal Herzberg   Engineer
Glen Nakasako   Art Direction
Mark Ronson   Composer,Producer,Engineer,beats
Christophe Barratier   Composer
Paul Ill   Composer
Kwame Holland   Composer
Joe Buissink   Photo Courtesy
Tracie Burton   Vocal Scratches
Coodie & Chike   Director
Charles Martin Roane   Producer,Engineer
Chris Tedesco   Horn Conductor
Alan Mason   Vocal Scratches
Christopher Anderson-Bazzoli   String Conductor

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