Back To Basics
I’m not going to lie to you, good folks, this album is probably the easiest and hardest to write about. This album, in my opinion, is one of the greatest albums I’ve ever experienced. Ever.
I was raised on classic soul and R&B music from the 60s and 70s. R&B, Jazz, Funk, Gospel,and Blues are all emotionally enriched genres of music. They’re timeless. They are eternal. The use of piano, organ, heavy bass guitar, trumpet, and saxophone play in the ear like an auditory time machine that takes the souls to that unique dimension that is nearly impossible to describe to someone who has never been there or experienced that energy. Add the beautifully melodic and powerful voice of Chrisitina Aguilera as she’s entering an exciting new phase of her life and you get the 2006 2-Disc release Back To Basics.
With the other entries in this series, I’ve picked through the album to get the best songs. I really can’t with this one. It’s seriously too great of a work to pick through. So, for this one, I will touch on each and every track of this 2-disc masterpiece. I won’t dig in too deep with each track, but I will do my best to convert my love for her passion into words.
[ deep breath ]
Okay, let’s get into it!
“That's how music should sound.”
The first track is the intro with about 20 seconds of a hard-hitting drum and horn introducing Aguilera before a voice tells you “that’s how music should sound.” What follows is a simple, but dope beat with Christina telling you that she’s been waiting for a chance to pay tribute to the classic singers and musicians or blues and jazz that came before her, going back to the basics of good music.
Next, Aguilera takes you to church! A gospel choir backs up Christina as she’s reflecting on her new view of herself since she found her new husband. A lot of this album is inspired by her recent marriage and the birth of her son. “Makes Me Wanna Pray” is an upbeat gospel vibe that one can’t help but wanna dance to and feel that love and positive energy most Christians talk about feeling in church. It’s just an amazing song.
Donny Hathaway, Leena Horne, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, and Etta James are just some of the names mentioned in “Back in the Day”. I’d describe this as a simple groove. It’s mellow to create a vibe that is carried throughout a lot of the first half of this album. The lyrics paint the picture, or “set the mood”, of a time when you’d go to the club or discotech and just dance and vibe to music played by a DJ. It was a generally simpler time and such places were a place to just escape. This is calling to return to a better time “back in the day”.
Brass horns. I love brass horns! Brass horns with Aguilera vocalizing open the song “Ain’t No Other Man”. It’s another song devoted to her love and appreciation of her new husband, Jordan Bratman. “Ain’t no other man as true. Ain’t no other man but you.” While the subject of love and devotion to her new husband with much of the album, the lyrics shift from about how his love impacted her to how great a man he is in general (like in this song) to her sexual attraction to him (oh, we’ll get to that song later). The change in the music and use of instruments makes the songs sound very different and you’re just on the ride with her as she explores how finding the right partner that makes you feel comfortable with being yourself can change your perspective on life as a whole.
“Understand” takes our theme and looks at it from a different angle. A very familiar concept of putting up mental and emotional walls after some form of trauma. She talks about how she had been hurt so many times before that it made her closed off to the idea of being happy in a relationship. This song is thanking him for understanding what she was going through and dealing with and never giving up on her.
“Stop! Slow down, Baby!”
Man, I love this song! The song is led by the deep trombone (I think) and trumpet before a voice tells you to “Stop! Slow down baby!”. The song is a newer narrative. It’s basically a woman who encounters a man who is used to manipulating his way to get whatever or whoever he wants. As the title indicates, she tells him to stop and slow down the advances because she is happily in a relationship and that all of his clearly practiced lines won’t work on her because she’s not willing to lose the happy life she has. Even ignoring the story, the music is just another leg on this musical journey that I’ve mentioned before.
It really is important to make the point that the stories are well told and Aguilera’s voice is absolutely flawless, but if you were to have a completely instrumental version of this album, it would still be one of my favorite albums of all time and this is one of my favorite songs. Many albums have songs that can create a great vibe, but it really is the entire album, track-for-track, start-to-finish. And if you don’t know what I mean by “vibe”, it’s the energy your body and your soul feels while your ears listen.
“Oh Mother”, the next track on the album, tells a story that is all too familiar. Girl meets Boy. Boy is wonderful. Girl marries Boy. Boy abuses Girl. Girl closes up and hides her pain from everyone including those who she knows could help. It was only when the abuse reaches the children that the Girl enters Mother-Mode and does what it takes to protect the kids in a way she couldn’t manage to do for herself. I’ve known so many too many women that have gone through these kinds of situations. If you find yourself in an abusive relationship, please reach out to someone and do what it takes to safely get away. No one, male, female, or otherwise, deserves to live that way. And if you’re the one DOING the abusing, get help! You don’t need to treat someone that way to “feel important” or whatever reason you have. Seek help. Do Better.
I know I took this into a weird direction there, but it’s important. The song touches on such a painful and serious topic, but the song concludes with Aguilera encouraging her mother, as it’s framed that her mother is the Girl in our story, and thanking her for being strong enough to rescue them all from danger.
“F.U.S.S.” is basically a “fuck you” interlude to a former producer. A google search will tell you that F.U.S.S. is short for “Fuck U Scott Storch”. The two worked together previously and for reasons not clear in the song, the two couldn’t see eye-to-eye on the production of “Back to Basics”. One story I read was that he demanded extravagant concessions to be the producer of this album. Aguilera was offended by the demands and that impacted her view of him despite their positive past.
Upbeat piano playing downscale and classic hip-hop style beat starts off “On Our Way”. Back to the positive relationship narrative, this time we get 3 simple minutes of covering the “we’re opposites, but work well together and we’re “On Our Way” to a great life. In fairness, I think it’s really more of an acknowledgement that they two are individuals and they are going to butt heads, but their love and dedication will get them through.
Okay, now, I really do hate to interrupt this blog at this point, but I feel I kinda have to mention it. As much as I love the dedication and devotion in this album, someone will read this and read how I’ve interrupted the song and want to remind me that Christina and her husband Jordan divorced in 2011. Listen, as all artistic works are, this album is a snapshot to a very happy, positive, and loving time in Christina Aguilera’s life. So, although I’m well aware that this relationship ended five years after the release of this album, the energy, the vibe, and the message is still valid.
Alright, back to it!
Acoustic guitar - keyboard - drum beat. The way “Without You” starts is a vibe in and of itself. To me, it brings to mind a Mexican desert hotel. Sand-colored everything with the only hint of color, a beautiful woman in red in the window of the hotel. The music is sexy. The lyrics tapped into the emotional and spiritual influence her husband has had on her. “What kind of world would it be without you? I couldn’t breathe without you. What kind of world would I see without you. I can’t dream without you.” Given this repeated theme, it’s safe to conclude that Christina was really dealing with some demons prior to this relationship and he was a greatly positive influence on her life. It’s almost unfair to just say this is an album of love. This is an album of appreciation. This is a person recognizing what someone else did for them beyond the superficial.
The album so far has shown a softer side of Christina Aguilera. “Still Dirrty” is a reminder that, before you write her off as blinded by love, she still has the old “X-Tina” in her. Second verse questions why women are always judged so harshly about the way she dresses saying, “Why is a woman's sexuality always under so much scrutiny? Why can't she do exactly as she please without bein' called a million things? They say I'm not the girl they used to know (Used to know) 'Cause I don't always wear revealing clothes (Oh) But don't be fooled, the moment I get home (I get home) I'm lettin' loose, givin' a private show (Don't you know?)” further discussing that the judgments are usually from women who “talk and stare; who never seem to let down their hair” and that before judging women because they choose to embrace their sexuality for their own sake, maybe they should try it because they don’t know what they're missing.
Amen, Sister! Amen!
“Here To Stay” is exactly what you think the song is. It’s the “You’re going to judge me and that’s fine because I don’t care. I’m going to be me, I’m going to do my own thing because I’m here to stay” (Those are not lyrics. That’s a generalized paraphrase). The actually chorus lyrics are:
“I'm gonna keep on, Imma do my own thing (Yeah)
We all got a song that we're meant to sing (Ah, meant to sing, yeah)
And no matter what people say or might think (Think)
I ain't goin' no place, no
I'm here to stay
Gonna keep on doing my thing (I'm gonna keep on)
'Cause whether they love or they hatin' on me (Hatin' on me, babe)
I'll still be the same girl I used to be
'Cause I ain't goin' no place, no
I'm here to stay”
See? Told you. The music takes you back to the intro of a 70s movie. Once you hear it, you’ll know exactly what I mean.
The last song on Part 1 is “Thank You (Dedication)”. In this song, she takes a moment to thank her fans for loving and sticking with her through thick and thin. Also, it is an opportunity for fans to thank her. The song has multiple clips of voice messages from fans sharing how powerful her music has been to them. This includes encouragement to leave bad relationships, get over past traumas, and pulling them away from suicide attempts. While it wasn’t Aguilera, I know what it’s like to be in a very dark place and have the music of an artist pull me out.
Thank you, Eminem.
I really like this track. While it’s not the musically best song by any stretch, the fans pouring their hearts out and having that chance to thank someone so important to them is special. This track isn’t about the music. It’s about the message.
Wow, I knew that by covering each and every track that this would be long, but I didn’t think this would be THIS long. To cover part 2 of the album would be too much for one entry, so I guess I’ll be releasing a Part 6. Or would that be Part 5.5? Or would it be Part 5, part 2? Either way, come back next week while we cover the second half of the album.