BRITNEY SPEARS: BLACKOUT (2007)
1) Gimme More; 2) Piece Of Me; 3) Radar; 4) Break The Ice; 5) Heaven On Earth; 6) Get Naked (I Got A Plan); 7) Freakshow; 8) Toy Soldier; 9) Hot As Ice; 10) Ooh Ooh Baby; 11) Perfect Lover; 12) Why Should I Be Sad.
It is hard not to admit that the «Britney team», no matter how cheap, crass, or cynical it may get (and standards are constantly rising), at least has a sense of crude (exploitative) humor: Blackout is probably the perfect title for a new Britney Spears album in 2007, in the light of — or, should we say, «in the blackout of...»? — everything that we know of Britney's public, and not-so-public, life over the preceding three years. As the demon that she had foolishly let her mentors unleash on her during the In The Zone sessions predictably entered her offstage life as well, I remember the whole thing almost beginning to take on the shape of a medieval moral tale — sell your soul to you-know-who, and here comes the retribution.
Blackout came right in the middle of the turmoil, recorded in the midst of drug-related scandals, broken marriages, trials, psych wards and what-not. For some people, these situations actually act as creative catalysts — great art coming out of great suffering and all that — problem is, since «creativity» and «Britney Spears» never belonged in the same sentence, all we could hope for is somebody else getting catalyzed by Britney's ordeal and creating something to match. Clearly, certain such efforts had been made. The results, however, are somewhat puzzling.
Blackout is very different from In The Zone. This is a much darker, colder, sterner album — in certain respects, more mature, and definitely more cynical. As a cohesive atmospheric piece, it actually succeeds — where In The Zone was the sound of a wild, no-holds-barred, try-everything-once party, Blackout is the hangover effect, and even though the party as such is over, the effect is every bit as disturbing because it seems irreversible. With all the icy, IDM-inspired synthesizers, techno beats, and processed vocals, Blackout opens the «robo-phase» of Britney's career, and, coming straight off the heels of In The Zone, there is no getting rid of the implied feeling — this is where too much sexploitation actually gets you. In other words, «one fuck too much» and the senses start shutting down. (Isn't that what happens to porn stars?)
On the level of individual songs, Blackout does not work one tiniest bit. Its opening single, ʽGimme Moreʼ, forever tied to a disastrous «live» MTV performance that introduced the «new-look Britney», is hardly memorable for anything other than the opening "it's Britney, bitch" — and only in the function of «least convincing line in a Britney Spears song ever». The rest is a mess of synthesizer sirens, morose Gregorian chant-inspired vocal harmonies, and atmospheric attempts to turn the message of ʽMe Against The Musicʼ on its head — give it a cynical edge, let the mind show some condescension towards the body — but there is no hook, and dark atmosphere alone does not suffice, since, after all, this is still dance-oriented electropop for the masses, not a Dead Can Dance record or anything.
Then there is the obligatory anti-media rant — ʽPiece Of Meʼ is probably one of the few «sticky» bits on the album, and also one on which the heavy use of Auto-Tune is fully justified: the very idea is that, on this song, the listener who wants a «piece of her» will have to deal with the robotic casing, installed by the security system. If it only weren't so predictable, or so hypocritical (don't say they didn't warn you, Brit!), I could almost say that it works: there is something vaguely Kraftwerk-ian about it, reminding of the good old days of Man Machine. In any case, it clearly stands out from the rest of the tracks, be it in a good or a bad way.
Because the rest is... well, even compared to the production values of In The Zone, everything is pretty bland. Auto-Tune, electro beats, processed background vocals, no curious or even vaguely interesting overdubs, and an atmosphere of total robo-stupor — depressing and boring at the same time. It is not even quite clear to me how the album could appeal to Britney's established fanbase, what with its near-total lack of the «let's have fun» message. As you slide down to the promises of the track called ʽGet Naked (I Got A Plan)ʼ — a title that should presume some giddy Prince-like bawdiness — you find that, in its essence, the song is more like a dirge than a sex anthem, and that its repetitive message of "get naked, get naked, get naked, take it off, take it off" sounds more like something you'd expect to hear in a doctor's office rather than in a strip club. So much for all the sex symbolism.
ʽToy Soldierʼ, masterminded by hip-hop producer Sean Garrett, is probably the closest that this amorphous mass ever gets to a bit of chaotic crazy fun — martial rhythms, burlesque mood, and a «drunk-off-my-head» vocal part that has Britney coming out of her robot shell for once (or, perhaps, more like borrowing a hyperactive emotional chip for three seconds). But even on that song the «fun» in question is not real fun — merely the side effect of a mechanical spring failure in the orgasmatron, with unpredictable results (for once).
Overall, the only reason why this is called Blackout and not Meltdown is that the latter excludes the possibility of recovery — here, it was immediately implied in the title that Britney's suffering is deemed temporary. It is also implied that Britney's career as such had nothing to do with it: it's all about the over-demanding fans (ʽGimme Moreʼ), the evil media (ʽPiece Of Meʼ), and that shithead of a husband (ʽWhy Should I Be Sadʼ, closing the album on a «touchingly» personal note). It is also a nice preventive cop-out in case the album were to become panned — give the lady a break, after all, she clearly isn't in a state to produce her masterpiece. But who are we fooling? As usual, the album has very little to do with Britney herself — and this time around, they did not even bother about raising the enthusiasm bar in the studio: In The Zone might have been state-of-the-art dance-pop when it came out, but Blackout seems to be slacking in that respect. As an attempt to save a bit of face, it isn't that awful — but to say that Britney is «way past her prime» here would be a gross understatement. On the other side, she probably should have been grateful to still have a record contract under the circumstances.
Check "Blackout" (MP3) on Amazon