It's been two years since the reigning princess of pop, Britney Spears, has released a studio album. And, now, she's on her eighth, Britney Jean, with a high profile Las Vegas residency to start days after its worldwide release. After fifteen years in the business, did the mother of two deliver? Maybe not in the way you'd expect.
The album kicks off with the William Orbit collaboration, "Alien." Britney coos, "There was a time when I was one of a kind," perhaps suggesting a stronger Britney who hasn't had to live in the aftermath of 2007. The spacey studio tricks blimp in and out of Britney's cold distant lyrics, which despite other reviews suggesting their banal quality, are quite stunning.
In fact, Britney receives writing credit on every single song on Britney Jean including the bonus tracks featured on the deluxe version. While some reviewers have questioned the merit of such, I highly doubt Britney is the type of artist to steal credit where no credit is deserved or is so hard-up for publishing royalties. Vegas, hello!
"Perfume" permeates much like In the Zone's "Everytime." Although I do suggest listening to the "Dreaming Mix," as the will.i.am version comes on much too strong for such a delicate scent. In terms of Britney ballads though I'd have to turn to "Don't Cry." For the first time since post-Blackout, Britney utilizes her vulnerable and sometimes fragile vocals-- something the bonus tracks for Femme Fatale only flirted with.
It isn't until midway into the album that fans are treated with club-thumping bangers. Unlike the dance music on Femme Fatale, though, these songs are bereft of their shiny pop plastic that has been so fitted with Britney. "Work Bitch" almost seems like child's play to the EDM fabulosity she came up with. Then again not even the most bedazzled queen can out-gay that anthem-- not since Judy Garland stepped into her first pair of ruby reds has queendom really been claimed.
will.i.am re-robo's Britney on "It Should Be Easy," which while very Britney, perhaps resembles something much too Black Eyed Peas for diehard fans. "Tik Tik Boom" saunters on with some rather brilliant vocal phrasing intercut with staccoto "tik tik boom"'s. The juxtaposition can be disjointing, but Britney brings it home per usual.
"Body Ache" is probably the single most exciting song on the album. It's sum six years late as I saw this song as a natural progression from Blackout. It's a taste of that Euro EDM that's been spilling over from underground dance music. It's just a hop, skip, and jump away from an indie-dance track-- which I'd be forever grateful for!
The dance break in Britney Jean ends with "Til It's Gone," a sort of kiss off to naysayers and doubters. It's got the kind of ferocity that "Piece of Me" roared, but the rawness that "Gimme More" purred. I'm not saying it's about the paparazzi, Jason Trawick, or anything really, but the lyrics resonate from something deeper. The magic really happens in the last minute and half or so where Britney adds some kickass adlibs and the production and Britney become so in-sync.
Then there are songs like "Passenger" helmed by Diplo and Katy Perry, which should garner a listen just from those names alone! "I want you to take the wheel" Britney belts begging the question: what's she singing about? Is it about her fans? her new beau? to her conservitor father? Amigiouty has always been Britney's best friend, and she's really muddling the water here.
So, what does this all mean for Britney's discography? Does Britney Jean burn hot like past favorites like Blackout or In the Zone or, the album that started it all, ...Baby One More Time? Only time will tell. Like her previous self-titled album, Britney, we're dealing with a transitional Britney. As she forays into Vegas for an unprecedented residency, we're dealing with all new rules. Does Vegas make her more accessible to fans to reignite that performer who refused to settle for average music videos, who donned a snake on live television, or who crafted one the best albums in modern pop history? Or is this simply an excuse to chill with her boys and family to ultimately retire her dancing shoes for good-- a timely phrophesy suggested by "Don't Cry." I can't say for sure, but Britney Jean surely poses open-ended questions. I don't think even she knows the answers to, but I'm willing to "jump with no net." Because to be a Britney fan is to expect the unexpected even if it's exactly what you expected.