Christina Aguilera is mighty jazzed about her forthcoming “retro” album — which she previews in GQ’s June cover story. “Aguilera 3.0,” as the magazine calls her, has turned into a “Jazz Age Broadway-baby songbird,” and to prove it, the singer is planning a tour of jazz clubs to promote her concept album, Back to Basics.
“In the end, it’s really cool to just follow a set vision,” Aguilera told the mag. “I think it makes for a better product.”
To hear Etta James — a legendary R&B singer who called Aguilera both a friend and “a great little singer” — tell it, the young vocalist will have no problem holding her own in such venues as New York’s renowned Blue Note. “For a young girl like that to be singing real songs? I mean, she’s headed for the pop market, but she can do everything. She’s like somebody that was born at another time. An old soul.”
According to the magazine, Back to Basics begins with a spooky 1920s carnival fantasia, with producer Linda Perry playing a carnival barker promising thrills and chills: “Welcome to the greatest show … greatest show on earth!” Then the orchestra sweeps into an Abbey Road-esque chord progression as Aguilera’s alto soars.
The album next reveals a throwback hip-hop-soul sound that uses a string quartet, horns and jury-rigged recording techniques to evoke a vintage sound and sensibility. To attain the scratchy blues sound in “I Got Trouble,” producers used a bass-drum mic with fabric muffling it, and had Aguilera record the vocal when she had a cold. To get her voice even more raw for “Save Me From Myself,” Aguilera drank whiskey and recorded up close on the mic, “with no ad-libs, no nothing,” according to the singer.
“That’s so not like me,” Aguilera told the mag. “No effects, no reverb — and I’m a reverb queen. Every scratch, every little imperfection is there.”
Getting that musically naked was possible due to the singer’s trust in Perry, which developed during sessions for Aguilera’s 2002 LP Stripped. “I would never be able to be as open with anybody else,” Aguilera told GQ. “I think we push each other to go places that we wouldn’t normally go.”
The notoriously wild singer is still drawn to sassy material, such as Back to Basics’s club track “Still Dirrty” (“Still got the nasty in me/ Still got that dirty degree/ Still got that freak in me”) and “Naughty Naughty Boy” (“Now you better give me a little taste/ Put your icing on my cake”), the latter of which has a ’20s burlesque feel (see “Christina’s New Split-Personality Album Is Mature And ’Dirrty’ “ ). Other songs include “Candy Man,” which recalls the tight harmonies of all-female vocal groups from the ’30s and ’40s, and “Thank You,” which features DJ Premier splicing bits of “Genie in a Bottle” with fan voicemail messages.
“It’s been a long process making this album — I’m extremely detail-oriented, so I had to really take time with it,” Aguilera said. “It’s a big album. I recorded enough for a double CD, but fit it into one so it’s affordable to everyone.”