If I Keep Steppin’ It Up, I’ma Prove It

November 14, 2010

Christina Aguilera
Back to Basics
(2006)

Christina Aguilera has identity issues; a couple of things remain constant, she’s convinced she’s black and she’s not big on being fully clothed. She’s been second banana to Britney her whole career, dating back to the Disney years. She’s the “talented” one (though that’s all relative) but gets no respect. This is her albatross: she’s constantly trying to remind everyone of this and tries REALLY hard. She kissed Madonna within minutes of Britney but who does everyone remember having done the deed? She strips and mud-wrestles and no one bats an eye, Britney merely dances with a boa constrictor and the world goes gaga. She did not, however, attempt a drug habit to keep up with Brit Brit but I bet that idea came up in a few brainstorm meetings.
Her identity issues also stem from her not being sure whether she’s an r n b singer or whether she’s pop. She’s afraid to stray too far into either territory because pop is lame but straight r n b could alienate her pop fans and the good Lord knows she’s no Teena Marie. Back to Basics demonstrates this dichotomy quite well; the album doesn’t take off because she holds back on the r n b but can’t just sing a straight pop song without attempting her Whitney impression.
The album starts out with 3 separate songs going on about how down she is with soul music—3 separate songs! We get it, Christina, you listen to Otis, and that’s like so cool and stuff. Do you want a placard reading “Christina Aguilera Will Forever Have Street Cred”? Where are you going with this? Downhill is where she goes with this; while “Ain’t No Other Man,” is popping and has nods to 90’s hip hop right and left, the r n b “side” of the album then doles out one snoozer of a tune after another. It confounds me that this is a double album, it hardly has one album’s worth of material worthy of releasing.
Disc 2 is Linda Perry’s disc; it starts with a Danny Elfman-esque intro and then proceeds to attempt a watered-down version of a bunch of other genres like blues, jazz, and the obligatory power ballad. Man, I hate Linda Perry. She should be playing state fairs with a bunch of ringers and still calling them “4 Non-Blondes,” not popping up on “tough girl” pop albums. An interesting observation, the song “Hurt,” was written by Aguilera, Perry, and this guy named Mark Ronson. Perry was replaced by Ronson as collaborator du jour not long after this….odd.
Strangely, Back to Basics was a critical smash; I mean, it’s better than a lot of pop albums that came out around that time but it’s not a solid album by any means. If the executive producer cut out a lot of fat and created just one disc of material, I might have been more understanding of the reaction. Aguilera went on to screw herself royally again by releasing Bionic which includes collaborations with Le Tigre (really, Kathleen Hanna? You disappoint), and MIA. It comes down to something that irks me about pop singers in this day and age: most people don’t need a record label anymore, it seems, so pop singers who want to “prove themselves” should just go all the way with it instead of dipping their toes in collaborating with “cool” acts, just freaking get out there and write the cool songs themselves. While pop is in this day and age about trying on other artists’ skins, we could do with more Robyn’s and Kylie’s and less with more Gaga’s and Aguilera’s.

 

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