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27 December, 2006@12:00 am

    After boy bands and pop-stars were mocked and destroyed by acts like Blink 182 and Eminem, the TRL set decided it was time to take this rap shit seriously, so to speak. Gwen Stefani and Britney got The Neptunes, Justin Timberlake and Nelly Furtado got Timbaland, and Fergie kept it in house with Will.I.Am. The usually cheesy, Mickey Mouse Club alumni quickly discovered that the two-dollar Wal-Mart production they were used to simply wasn’t going to cut it anymore. So while her counterparts all tapped the go-to-guys for accessible club-hop beats, who did Christina Aguilera get? Try DJ Premier. Shocker of the year?  Most definitely so. And what’s even more surprising is just how good Aguilera’s new LP, Back To Basics, is.

     Like the title suggests, Christina takes things back, way back, channeling everything from 70′s soul to 50′s doo-wop to 20′s speakeasy sounds. The album begins with the DJ Premier produced intro / title track, “Back To Basics”, which could have just as easily been the opener to the next Gang Starr album. Here, the young singer pays tributes to all the “soul singers” and “jazz makers” that paved the way for artists like her. Again on “Back In The Day”, she pays tribute over another dirty Brooklyn beat from Premier, name dropping Marvin and Coltraine, telling listeners to “turn up your 45′s / bring back to life the sound of yesterday”. But before this, Agulera takes them to church on the Steve Winwood assisted “Makes Me Wanna Pray”, a gospel influenced track produced by Beyonce “Crazy In Love” collaborator, Rich Harrison. The true ladies anthem here though is “Ain’t No Other Man”, again propelled by another raw Preemo track, with chopped drums and sampled horn stabs, as Christina commences to sing her hot blonde ass off.  

     Kwame (yeah, that Kwame) continues to live his second childhood as a producer on the beautifully soulful “Understand”, which seamlessly finds Christina in a duet with a Betty Harris sample. Rising production star Mark Ronson chimes in on the EPMD inspired/Tony Yayo sampled “Slow Down Baby”, as she waves her finger at pushy suitors; and again on the melancholy “Without You”. Relatively unknowns Big Tank & Q keep things on point with both “Oh Mother” and “On Our Way”, without sacrificing the sound or integrity of the rest of the record. DJ Premier checks back in towards the end of the record with “Still Dirrty”, a chopped horny-horns head-nodder where the girl defends her brazen sexuality, as well as the melancholy “Thank You (Dedication To The Fans)”, which closes the album out. 

     And that’s the first disc of the album in a nutshell. And by itself, it’s an excellent, shockingly raw, soulful album. Still, this no doubt would leave the demographic of 13 year-old girls and 30-something suburbia females scratching their heads as to what was going on here, so there is a second disc included in the set. The demographic reading this review however, should and will, avoid disc two at all costs. Not to say she totally took things in bubble gum direction with the second nine-track disc, but it’s?different. 

     Obviously inspired by films like Chicago and Moulin Rouge, and of course the music of those eras, the second disc is produced entirely by former collaborator Linda Perry. Acting as almost a second album, the disc opens with “Enter The Circus”, where a flamboyant ringleader introduces you to the new sound you are about to hear. Again, the stuff here is fluffy, catchy, and ripe for a musical like Idlewild - and there is nothing terribly wrong with it – but it pales in comparison to the rawness of the first disc. So treat it like a bonus CD, toss it aside, as the first disc is worth the price of admission alone. 

     We all made fun of the Justin’s, Jessica’s, and Britney’s, when they first emerged almost ten years ago, and many with good reason. But as these artists age and mature, it becomes easier to separate those with talent and those with only good looks. What Christina Aguilera has done with Back To Basics is not only shown her true devotion to the music and artists that came before her, but also risked the commercial success of this record by refusing to conform. Couple this with the fact that she did not rely on slick studio wizardry to make herself sound good, letting her natural talent shine as she sings over the rawest production. For all of that, she should be taken seriously as an artist. Go get ‘em girl.

  Mixtape D.L.
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