Christina Aguilera certainly has an unusual idea of getting "back to basics", which here involves not just the album you expect, full of shrill diva disco-pop, but an additional album on which she unveils her "new direction", full of simulated blues and big-band swing.
Presumably, then, the album title is referring not to a stripped-down simplicity of approach, but to the roots, or "basics", of the R&B in which she plies her trade. Even the standard album features several tributes to her forerunners in the jazz and soul genres, notably "Back In The Day", built on a Jimmy Castor Bunch riff, before she even gets to the full-on jaaazz album. For the most part, though, it's business as usual, with the urgent discofied hysteria and vocal showboating of tracks like the single "Ain't No Other Man" and "Without You" interspersed with the overwrought sentimentality of the Madonna-esque "Oh Mother" and the concluding "Thank You", on which Aguilera's grateful vocal is punctuated with fans' answerphone tributes thanking Christina for her "guidance", a notion that truly beggars belief.
In places her respect for her R&B ancestors pays welcome dividends, notably on the rolling horn-sample grooves of "Here To Stay" and "Slow Down Baby" and the gospelly "Makes Me Wanna Pray", built on a lift from Traffic's "Glad". But the shortcomings of the diva working method are plain on "On Our Way", whose chorus vocal jumps haphazardly about without establishing a coherent emotional tone.
The touchstones for the "bold, set vision" of the second disc, she claims, are such as Billie Holiday, Otis Redding, Etta James and Ella Fitzgerald. Produced by Linda Perry, this set effectively finds Aguilera stealing the clothes off retro-swing-rapper Nellie McKay's back, calling out "come here big boy" over razzy big-band stripper music on "Nasty Naughty Boy", as if she were Madonna in "Hanky Panky" mode. The samples on this disc are more likely to be from an oompah or Marines brass band than funk or soul acts, though the album lurches towards an overbearingly maudlin, string-drenched conclusion with a clutch of impassioned big production numbers. And it's questionable whether the bogus Bessie Smith-style blues "I Got Trouble" is best served by the fake vinyl scratches and "antique" process through which her voice is filtered. But it's not quite the disrespectful farrago one might expect - and although it will rate few plays at the expense of the more mainstream material, she should, I suppose, be applauded for acknowledging her musical forebears.
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