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.
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