Back To Basics Disc 2
Ladies and Gentlemen. Boys and Girls. I knew that going track-for-track in part 5 was going to make it longer than expected, but I didn’t think I’d need a Part 2. Alas, here we are! “Back to Basics” has an entire second disc. The first disc had a clear theme for most of its songs, that being the love she had for her new husband. I feel that if there was a theme to the second disc it would be “sexy circus”. I’m going to go through the entire second disc, just as I did with the first.
As with that, the Sexy Circus energy begins right at the start with the second disc’s intro “Enter the Circus”. In your mind, picture “circus music” in your head. That tune, with the organ and horns (the musical trumpet style horns, not the squeaky clown horns, although that would be strangely appropriate) is the music that plays as a backdrop for the introductory monologue which is very Welcome-To-The-Circus-esque. Saying things like, “Do you want to be widely entertained? People to know your name? Do you crave fame? Well, they say, ‘Things aren't always what they seem to be’ Even your greatest fantasies you won't believe your eyes. Won't even recognize the wonderment that lies behind the shimmer and the lights.” Things that are designed to instill excitement, awe, and wonder. This intro leads us to…
“Welcome to the Greatest Show! Greatest Show on Earth you’ve never seen before!”
The first song is called “Welcome”. It’s short, about a minute or so longer than the intro. It’s a mixed message with the lyrics here. There’s a play into circus/carnival imagery with references to face painting, fairy tales, smoke and mirrors, etc. After that, there’s a shift to the idea that not all the people around can be trusted. “Is it all blue skies? Fun and games until you fall then you’re left without anyone at all” then ending with “Who’ll be sticking it out, who’ll be staying around when the lights go down?”
It’s fun especially with the intro going directly into “Welcome”. It feels like one whole song and sets the performance idea that is the theme of disc 2.
If the first two tracks validate the “Circus” part of the “Sexy Circus” theme, “Candyman” sets up the “Sexy” part. The music is reminiscent of the Roaring’ 20s “Big Band” style. Envision the sailors coming home from WWI and going into a bar or speakeasy like establishment. You even get a military cadence (“Tarzan and Jane swingin’ on a vine. Sippin’ on a bottle of vodka double wine”) sewn in the song.
As for the song itself, Aguilera tells the story of meeting the “Candyman”. No, not Tony Todd, but a man that’s a sweet talker. He took her on a fun-filled date that, along with his physical appearance, really “revved her engines” you could say. “He’s a one-stop shop, makes my cherry pop” or “He’s a one-stop, gotcha hot, makin’ all the panties drop” or “He’s a one-stop, got me hot, makin’ me [insert moaning sound here] pop” - you get the idea.
The song is fun, as this album is, but the not-so-subtle singing about her horny her date is making her, doesn’t even make this the sexiest song on the album. That song is next!
“Come here, big boy”
With the tempo dropped real slow, the music goes from the fun big band tune of “Candyman” to a very sexy striptease. “Nasty Naughty Boy” is exactly what you’d think it’d be. Starting the song with the lyrics, “You’re been a bad bad boy. I’m gonna take my time, so enjoy. There’s no need to feel no shame. Relax and sip upon my champagne.”
This song is full of metaphor and innuendo. “I wanna give you a little taste of the sugar below my waist”, for example. If you’re listening to this with someone and you’re wanting that ‘happy ending’ to the night, but don’t know how to send a hint, just play this and make eye contact. There should be an answer in their eyes. I can’t promise that the answer is the one you’re looking for, but your intention will be clear and so will your answer. (If the answer isn’t clear, abort the mission. The answer’s likely no. Sorry.)
If aborting the mission makes you sad, the next song is a Blues style song so, there you go! “I Got Trouble” is about as classic of a Blues song title as I think you can get although, in this song, it's less that she HAS troubles and more than she IS trouble. The Blues song is saying, in my interpretation, she’s saying that if you taste that ‘sugar from below her waist’ you’re going to be hooked and you're gonna wanna keep coming back for more. I gotta say, she sounds like the kinda trouble you’ll wanna get in.
Now that she’s thoroughly turned you on and maybe you paused the CD to… take care of those “troubles”, the tone changes with the next track. “Hurt” is an apology. “I’m sorry for blaming you for everything I just couldn’t do”. While it isn’t clear who she’s apologizing to or for what, the slow yet melodic tone of the piano and simplistic way Christina sings this song shows remorse. It does seem that whoever it is she’s apologizing to is no longer on this side of the dirt, eliminating her chance to actually apologize.
Again, I don’t know the situation, but if I get anything out of this song, don’t take people or time for granted. You may think the opportunity will always be there, but one day it won’t. Seize it while you can.
Following her apology song to someone who went to Heaven, the next track, “Mercy on Me” begins with a confession to the Lord Himself. If you want to think of a character, the woman that was using her “sugar” to get all these men and having her way with them is suddenly feeling remorseful, asking for forgiveness for, as she says, “I’ve forsaken and I’ve sinned” and later “begging forgiveness to help set me free” for the sinful life she’s living and the” fragments of the men so broken.”
This plays into the beauty of this album. On this half of the album, there is this character that likely is a reflection of the version of herself that Aguilera was aiming for at the time of recording. I can tell you that when you find someone, romantically or otherwise, that gives you the space to be your absolute authentic self, one can feel unstoppable and surely powerful. I feel that her marriage, at this stage, gave her this power to be herself more unapologetically than before, which gives space to self-reflection and could be the reason for songs like “Hurt” and “Mercy on Me”.
One of the things I love about this album is that it’s Christina Aguilera, who has one of the most powerful and beautiful singing voices out there, then and now (We’re looking at you Gaga, in that top spot). “Save Me from Myself”, the next song, is stripped down and really highlights that incredible voice of hers. No Big Band, No Circus theme. No drums. Just Aguilera and an acoustic guitar, with some light string playing in the background. The gist of the song is Aguilera singing to her husband about how despite the difficulty of being with her, he’s consistent and present and there for her. She’s really putting him on a pedestal. “And don’t ask me why I love you. It’s obvious your tenderness is what I need to make me a better woman to myself”, again, making the point I made a moment ago about how when someone shows you how to properly be loved, it gives you the space and power to better yourself. Not that the other person makes you a better person, but that they inspire you to be better yourself.
As this series has shown, I’m a fan of many different types of music. This album has presented so many different vibes and different ranges musically and the symphonic sound of “The Right Man” is a great way for the album to come to a close. To me, the lyrics are more like her vows. Her newlywed status has been the undeniable theme of the entire work and “The Right Man” sounds like what she would have said at the altar. Beginning by saying that “so many years have gone by, always strong, tried not to cry. Never felt like I needed any man to confront me in life.” and ending with, “Now I’m standing at Four Corners, to have and to hold, now my love, you stand beside me to walk life’s winding road. And I owe it to you for taking a chance”, showing the personal journey and self exploration that she must have gone through to make it to that place in her life.
In the bright lights of hindsight, we can see that the blissful marriage between Aguilera and Bratman didn’t last long citing that neither of them were “angels” with Aguilera making the decision to end the marriage for the sake of their son, Max.
So what does this mean for the legacy of an album where the majority of it was about her undying love and devotion for a man she’d eventually divorce? First of all, the album as a whole is so incredible that I honestly don’t think anything can tarnish it. The music, the energy, the vibe, her voice - nothing can take away from the pure talent expressed in this work. Beyond that, one has to remember the underlying message in all this. The man didn’t make her better. Rather, the man inspired her to better herself. The difference: Once she made her changes, she was the woman she wanted to be, including the strength to be herself with or without that man or any man. She would be able to take those lessons, including the lessons learned from whatever led to the divorce, and use that to make whatever came next even better. So as far as a lasting legacy - “Back to Basics” loses nothing and in fact, may be an even better album when you apply context AND hindsight to the album.
I want to take this time to thank anyone who has read through all 5…, I mean, 6 parts of this series. Thank you for your time and your support. I appreciate all of it.