Trying To Get To You

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Andrews Sisters Meet Gang Starr

Christina Aguilera is on the current cover of Rolling Stone, looking like a latex-clad granddaughter of a member of the Andrews Sisters. It's a perfect, natural look for her especially in the context of her new record, Back To Basics, a (mostly) incredibly winning two-disc set that shows, once and for all, that the lady has become an artist. And it's going to be a smash.

Divided into a hip-hop centric side produced by DJ Premier and a pop-rock side produced (recorded live, sans samples) by Linda Perry, Back To Basics is one of those rare concept records that suits the artist both musically and visually; if any current pop star was born to recreate and overhaul the 40's Femme Fatale look and feel, it's Aguilera. But the brilliance of the record as concept is in updating the vibe and feel of that pre-rock era without sacrificing any modernity. And because Aguilera is a pop artist, she can't imagine life without hooks - which accounts for the absolutely wonderful first single, "Ain't No Other Man," in which she sounds far fiercer and convincing singing about monogamy than she ever did about being dirrty, and "Slow Down Baby," in which a gorgeous horn riff matches Miss Christina in sass and sexiness.

Back To Basics is by no means a flawless record. Like many great American artists, Aguilera loves her sentimentality, which curdles into corniness in songs like "F.U.S.S." and "Here To Stay." And "Thank You (Dedication To Fans)" an audio montage of fans talking about what Aguilera's music has meant to them feels so unnecessary and almost beneath her on a record like this. Christina, when you've got songs as good as so many on this album, let them do the talking.

Critics will say that Back To Basics would have worked better as a single CD, and I have to agree with them, but overall, I think that's a minor quibble. The lady deserves props for the sheer ambition of the record and in managing to create a real personal vision for what she wants her music to be. Freedom in commitment may seem like a contradiction for most, but for Aguilera, that's what's happened; committing to a sonic vision and committing to a man have inspired the most mature and satisfying music of her career so far.


Soupercollider said...

I have never been a music snob. Never. I've defended the Backstreet Boys, Motorhead, Donna Summer, Bon Jovi, and the Andrews Sisters, all because they've each put out music worth hearing. I'm often ridiculed for liking the Pet Shop Boys and Ornette Coleman. But that's ok. There's something for everyone.

I must disagree with your statement that "the lady has become an artist." Ella Fitzgerald was an artist. Sarah Vaughan was an artist. Patti, Laverne, and Maxine were artists. Aretha = Artist. All Xtina has done is allowed her people to make her over. Sporting a 40's flip hair-do, does not a jazz singer make. This is not to say there isn't enough worthy music on "Back To Basics." It is probably the best thing she's done. But, I think we need to see some real growth musically before we can call her an "artist." 12 year old boys sprout from 5 feet 2 inches to 6 feet 2 inches in a year's time. What they do with that growth is comical. It is years later when they finally become comfortable with themselves.

I want to see what Aguilera does next. Until then, her success will be huge, thanks to the hooky, but hardly daring first single "Ain't No Other Man," which by the way, is no different from anything else she's recorded, no matter how many Betty Grable movies she watched to prepare for the session.

In the meantime, so many "artists" will continue to make awesome records and sell in the low thousands, because they are simply making good music, with no backstory other than their daily inspirations.

Ben Lazar said...

My only comment to that would be that pulling out the "Ella, Aretha and Sarah were artists" to make your point that Christina *isn't* an artist is unfair; in comparison with those giants, almost everyone is going to come up short.

Soupercollider said...

Fair enough. How about Sheryl Crow, Fiona Apple, and Madonna? Point was less about making Christina look bad, and more about not giving her too much credit.

Ben Lazar said...

Aight, we'll disagree on that one, because "Back To Basics" will get a lot more spins from me than "Tuesday Night Music Club" ever did.