BRITNEY SPEARS: BRITNEY (2001)
1) I'm A Slave 4 U; 2) Overprotected; 3) Lonely; 4) I'm Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman; 5) Boys; 6) Anticipating; 7) I Love Rock'n'Roll; 8) Cinderella; 9) Let Me Be; 10) Bombastic Love; 11) That's Where You Take Me; 12) When I Found You; 13) What It's Like To Be Me.
Presumably, the commercial success of Britney's first two albums swooshed past the breaking point — that point where, upon having dutily supplied a legion of teens with sweet fodder, she could be dumped by the industry altogether. The legions were still hot for more Britney — but also, the legions were growing up, and so, much like Harry Potter, Britney had to grow up along with her legions. So it was decided — meticulously planned and executed, too — that the third album would be... well, since we all know that «Artists» are supposed to have «Transitional Albums» that gradually bring them to their «Mature Stage», that was exactly what the third album was supposed to be. (Never mind that real artists rarely, if ever, calculate their records as «transitional» — they just come out that way naturally — but who are we kiddin' here).
If there is a more blatant way to emphasize this «transition» than naming one of the album's key tracks ʽI'm Not A Girl, Not Yet A Womanʼ, I'd like to hear it, but it seems like Max Martin had all potential competition beat on that one. Even more important is the fact that throughout, the focus is altogether on «Me, The Real Britney». Defending her «freedom» on ʽLet Me Beʼ, asserting her independent personality on ʽWhat It's Like To Be Meʼ, complaining about being way too ʽOverprotectedʼ, and peeking at us with a slightly scared (or was that «stoned»?) Mowgli-type look from the sleeve photo — yep, that's «Britney», all right: the girl who just got told by Justin Timberlake what it's like to be her. Did you ever realize that it is usually the media-baked glitzy shallow stars who like to extol their «independence» and «not-like-everybody-else-ness» and «let-me-live-my-own-life-ness», usually over the blandest melodies and arrangements ever, rather than the ones who are truly independent? You most probably did — and you most probably understand why that is so.
However, to achieve the official status of «transitional», the album must not concentrate entirely on pseudo-confession and mock-introspection. In terms of sheer covered ground, Britney is her most mish-mashy, variegated album ever. For one thing, individuality and maturity be damned, there is still a lot of the «old» bubblegummy Britney, still polishing her whitebread dance-pop moves on ʽBombastic Loveʼ and ʽCinderellaʼ, or cooing away little-princess romantic ballads (ʽWhen I Found Youʼ; the techno-spiced, but just as sickeningly sweet ʽThat's Where You Take Meʼ — high up in the skies, silly, whatever did you think? Wait for just a couple more years, we'll get there eventually).
For another thing, there is a brief, thoroughly and healthily failed attempt at dressing her up like a rough'n'tough rock star, with probably the most banal choice that could be made — Joan Jett's (actually, Alan Merrill's, but who cares these days?..) ʽI Love Rock'n'Rollʼ. Since there has never, ever been any additional evidence to the fact that Britney does, in fact, love rock'n'roll, not even her Oh So Cool "hey, is this thing on?" at the beginning manages to justify this next gaffe — granted, not nearly as face-palmish as the fiasco of ʽSatisfactionʼ, but only because, unlike the latter, ʽI Love Rock'n'Rollʼ was never a very good song in the first place.
Much better is the lead-off single from the album: ʽI'm A Slave 4 Uʼ, written and produced by The Neptunes, is probably one of the decade's better mainstream R&B dance numbers (not that I'm really an expert!), if only because its main hooks have nothing to do with mainstream R&B, but are based on an odd combination of boing-boing-ing electronic percussion with almost psychedelic vocalization (the "I'm a slaaaaaaaave for you..." bit, not the "get it get it get it" bit, which I originally mistook for "kitty kitty kitty", and it was way more fun). This is Britney dipping her toes into the seductive world of syncopation, sampling, and sex-tease, and it succeeds far better than dipping the same toes into bombastic riff-rock — except that ʽI'm A Slave 4 Uʼ is completely «de-personalized» and could have been recorded by just about anyone.
But no, this is the first and last time you are going to hear me complain about how «there's not enough Britney in this song», because the last time we really heard «the real Britney» was on ʽDear Diaryʼ, and it is not quite clear why anyone should ever want to hear more of «the real Britney» — thank goodness we now have all those tons of makeup on top, which is really the only reason to give a quick listen to these records in the first place. Problem is, on Britney that makeup is still laid on too thin — remember, we are supposed to be in transition here, not girls, not yet women. ʽI'm A Slave 4 Uʼ and, to a much lesser extent, ʽBoysʼ feature respectable production jobs — the rest of the N'Sync-ish dance numbers sink through the floorboards as usual. Plus, more trouble looms on the horizon as we see the first elements of auto-tuning on a couple of tracks, squeezing out the last irreplaceable element of Britney's — her sexy rasp — but, for the most part, fans of her limited, but not un-cute, vocal cords will still find plenty here.
Altogether, forgetting about the individual imaginativeness of ʽ Slaveʼ for a moment, Britney's «transition-ality» was realized rather poorly — the album lacks both the super-glamor-gloss of ensuing releases and the Lolita-style pesky perverted oh-so-guilty pleasure aura of the bubblegum teen-pop stuff. For the most part, this is bad, utterly sterile music as usual, but now it even sort of lacks the most basic sense of purpose, and in a way, this is the most «boring» album released under the name of B.S. up to date. In fact, I'd rather go and vomit one more time to ʽDear Diaryʼ than have to sit through this no-spine-whatsoever Justin Timberlake duet. On second thought, I just realized that I don't have to do either of these things — see, life isn't so bad after all.
Check "Britney" (MP3) on Amazon