October 5, 2006

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Christina Aguilera, Back To Basics
BMG, 2006

Did you hear? Christina likes jazz!

It’s easy to fall back on music’s most infalliable genre and use it as some sort of stab at critical immunity but nice try. But honestly, Christina’s gamble pays off, but for only 50 percent of the record, which is 50 percent better than I was expecting.

The first disc of this “New Orthophonic High Fidelity Recording” could have any musical elitest writing an entire thesis of how it encapsulates everything wrong with pop music. While DJ Premier’s fusion of jazz with some of that hipppity-hoppity stuff gels quite well, Christina’s lyrics are self-indulgent and lame. Kind of like listening to an Eminem album without the anger and embarrasingly awesome honesty. The track “Thank You,” loaded with phone calls from fans about how Christina “saved their lives,” comes off as self serving and makes the fans sound kind of pathetic (get a Robert Smith record, people!).

I would like to believe that the only people who are truly influenced by the likes of Miles Davis and John Coltrane also share a mutual love of speedballs, but it simply isn’t true. Christina runs the gamut of several subgenres of jazz on the second disc, everything from ragtime to blues, and, for a pop diva, she pulls it off without shooting herself in the foot. In fact, tracks like the made-to-sound-low-fi “I Got Trouble” and the spectacular “Mercy On Me” are so good that it calls into question why they took the risk of producing a double album when the second disc could easily stand its ground as a single record. But I guess jazz isn’t what the kids are into these days. As a bonus, her obvious newfound spirituality doesn’t even make me squeamish. It’s more like a Johnny Cash “I know I’m going to hell” vibe. C+

— Dan Brian