Monday, September 11, 2006 - The Michigan Daily - 9A
By Hyatt Michaels
Daily Arts Writer
OMG, It's like totally vintage ... skank.
past fo sweet bits
The WB may be dead, but its influx of super-
natural teenage dramas ("Charmed,'"Smallville,"
"Roswell") lives on. With
some brawny teenage The Covenant
leads and plenty of high
school angst, "The Cov- At the Showcase
enant" could have easily and Quality 16
worked in the network's Screen Gems
Predictably, it flops at
feature length. The set-up: Four hunky warlocks
blessed with magical powers inherited from
their Salem-witch-trial-surviving ancestors
investigate the mysterious death of a fellow high
school student. Suspense would presumably
ensue if the plot twists weren't all obvious and
the melodrama (alcoholic parents) wasn't wor-
thy of unintentional laughter.
Add lackluster acting by the pretty leads, and
you've got a whole lot of bland. This brood of
warlocks does little more than stalk around in
silhouette, play a few tricks on some ignorant
townies and generally come across as pouty
Express models. There's no direct nudity, but the
boundaries of beefcake screen time for a PG-13
rating are definitely pushed with excessive bed-
time sweats, some locker room chats and a few
inevitable girls in undies.
Make no mistake: This is not horror. This is
horror-lite, explicitly designed for the sleepover
giggles of thrill-adverse high school girls.
While sharing similarities with a half-dozen
films and TV shows from the past 20 years,
"The Covenant" borrows most heavily from
the late-'80s classic "The Lost Boys," which
followed another small hood of brothers joined
by the paranormal - in their case, vampirism.
While that film excelled at being a witty look at
'80s youth culture and a fresh take on archaic
vampire films, "The Covenant" fails to provide
any meaningful look at contemporary youth. At
only one moment toward the end of the film does
it appear to reach for a higher allegory, but that
too is quickly lost to an absurd plot development,
and the whole mess settles back into a meaning-
less look at well-fashioned six packs.
So, that thing about hairy palms? Maybe a little true.
By Caitlin Cowan
Daily Arts Editor
Does popularity constitute
quality? It's this either/or that
has set high art against mass
art, the exclusive against the
purists and Christina
socially con- Aguilera
scious artists Back to Basics
against sales- BCA
This last group, the entertain-
ers, has faced a great deal of
animosity in recent years. With
the explosion of the multi-mil-
lion-dollar boy-band enterprise,
dispensable female R&B song-
birds and screeching n-metal
five pieces suddenly seizing cul-
tural power, many have ceased
to take any Top 40 artists seri-
ously, and for a good reason.
Clear Channel radio sucks.
The Grammys seem to cater to
the tastes of the tasteless, and
Britney Spears, the one-time
teen queen of sex and sweat, has
become more notable for her
public missteps than her music.
Pop music has ceased to be
But Christina Aguilera, who
once contended with Spears
for the pop throne, is different.
Unlike other female pop sing-
ers, Aguilera has an blustery,
powerhouse voice. Her strong
vocal chops have earned her
acclaim from the moment she
stepped onto the scene at age 19
just seven years ago.
It's this marriage of classi-
cal vocal training and capitalist
marketing - of high and mass
art - that have made Aguilera a
different sort of pop singer. And
seven years after her epony-
mous debut, Aguilera seems to
have finally come into her own
on Back to Basics.
The disc is somewhat of a
concept album in that it's full of
sounds of days gone by. Every
aspect of the double-disc set,
from the old-timey font on the
front to Aguilera's retro cover
makeup and hair, says oh-so-
Production duties are split
between two master revisionists
- hip-hop legend DJ Premier,
master of the scratch, takes care
of disc one, while '80s pop mis-
tress Linda Perry sits behind the
boards on disc two.
Throughout the album, but
predominantly the second disc,
Aguilera's soul and gospel mash-
up produces some real wonders,
such as the choir groove funk of
"Makes Me Wanna Pray," com-
plete with downbeat hand claps.
"Back in the Day," with intro
that's a blatant rip-off of the
classic Pharcyde song, has a
respectable groove and a sum-
mer feel. Pearls of upbeat hip
hop-gone-pop like "Slow Down
Baby" and the single "Ain't No
Other Man" are sure-fire crowd
pleasers that sound more like
Aguilera, just like the over-
whelming number of talented
artists who've tried, has some
trouble carrying a double album
on her own.
Where a standard Xtina disc
can be expected to have a hand-
ful of clunkers, Basics backs
more than half a dozen. Slow
tunes like "Understand" and
the sappy "Oh Mother" are
too generic to be effective. On
"F.U.S.S." Aguilera tries to
sound sultry but ends up being
neither: The song drags and
drips while she exorcises her
During "Still Dirrty" Agu-
ilera claims that she's still got
as much sauce as she did when
she released her last album,
Stripped, the cover of which
featured her bare-breasted with
black and blonde hair exten-
sions covering her body from
her neck to the top of her very,
very low-rise jeans.
And while "Still Dirrty" is
boppy, grown-up and full of
horns, it's just not quite dirty
enough. You can neither sepa-
rate nor integrate the grrl-funk
and champagne ballads - the
two halves can't ignite anything
Beyond any of the structural
issues with the double-disc, it's
the level of self-consciousness
that fouls up the good times.
During the intro Aguilera sings,
"I wanna understand / What
made the soul singers and the
blues figures / That inspired a
higher generation / The jazz
makers and the ground break-
ers." The cloyingly emotional
songs, actually powerful on
Stripped, are just distractions
here. Instead of showcasing
her aptitude for jazz melodies
and soulful riffs, Aguilera tells
everyone she's about to do just
that on more than one occasion.
Even slobbering 12-year-old
boys will roll their eyes.
Still, Back to Basics is classy,
sassy fun and a fine effort from
an artist who already demon-
strated her range, releasing a
Spanish-language album and a
Christmas album in the same
Her gorgeous voice carries her
through even the least impres-
sive of tunes, and will undoubt-
edly keep her in the spotlight
for longer than any other female
songstress of the '90s.
Join the fight to
Over 2 million sold.!
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