Despite Christina Aguilera’s claim in the new song “Still Dirrty” that she’s “still got the nasty” in her, it would be fair to say that the girl in the assless chaps has undergone a serious de-skankification since her 2002 album Stripped. Perhaps it was inevitable: She married a nice Jewish guy, overhauled her style, kept it low-pro for a couple of years and re-emerged looking like a 2006 Lana Turner in Christian Louboutin pumps.
For her third studio album, Back to Basics, Aguilera demonstrates that the fetish extends beyond her wardrobe. The spirit of old-school jazz, blues and soul inhabits the set, which is divided into two discs: a collection of modern, beat-driven tunes and another rendered with only analog equipment, recorded live and sans samples. Aguilera succeeds in balancing references to jazzbos and soul singers — horns, gospel choirs, the sound of a dusty old vinyl album — with over-the-top kitsch. At the top of the list of Disc One’s killers is “Ain’t No Other Man” — a zoot-suit riot of a song that, like all the best stuff on Disc One, was produced by DJ Premier. On the Linda Perry-produced Disc Two, the prize goes to the creaky Bessie Smith-sounding “I Got Trouble” and a burlesque vamp called “Nasty Naughty Boy.” Then there’s “Candyman,” which may be a dead rip-off of the Andrews Sisters’ “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” but it’s fun to hear Aguilera play all three Andrewses and max out on coy naughtiness in her delivery of lyrics such as “He’s a one-stop shop/Makes the panties drop.”
When it works, Back to Basics raises the hope that Xtina fans everywhere might go digging through crates of vinyl LPs to track down the artists she references. When it fails — as on the incongruous schmaltzfest “Hurt” and the done-me-wrong song “F.U.S.S.,” the collection is overindulgent and self-important, proving that twenty-two songs is about ten too many for Aguilera. At one disc, this would have been nothing short of masterful.