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Sunday, January 13, 2013

Britney Spears: Britney


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" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Britney" (MP3) on Amazon

4 comments:

  1. Kudo's to Britney's team (she herself does her best) for adding sterility to the generic hardrock song I love Rock'n'roll.

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  2. Definitely the so-called "transitional" album in terms of message, but who listens to Britney for the message? I'm here for catchy music and I think songs like 'Overprotected' and 'Anticipating' is as closest to catchy as you can get from a Mickey Mouse Club-era Britney.

    I think this album is a misguided attempt at maturity, though, because the only logical and natural 'maturation' for a Lolita kitten is to become a professional sexpot, which she does pretty well here at 'Slave'. And she'll soon replicate this effort, along with the distinctive production, into her next two albums to critical acclaim (although for me, the attempts at those two albums are equally spread between the hits and misses... but when it does hit, it gives us stuff like 'Toxic' so I'm not exactly complaining).

    The Neptunes, Timbaland, and Danja are probably the Holy Trinity of modern R&B producers; so I think your description about 'Slave' as the better R&B songs wouldn't be too far off from reality. These producers have their own styles, and experiment to find new sounds every now and then. Sometimes to 'what the hell is going on?' results, but hey, that's a good sign that some producers out there are actually taking risks.

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  3. WTF with you George? Why you, talented writing guy reviewing (and more awful - listen) this crap? I reading you 10 years and really disappointment with this alphabetical bounds you cornered yourself.

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  4. I'm not going to listen to this album, but I watched the clip for I'm a slave 4u and it's so annoyingly pretentious. Marketed rebellion and managed mock-maturity are good words for it. Britney Spears, former child star, matures with her gullible audience by pretending to be a grown-up, sexually active woman - as a front for showcasing her in more sexy outfits.

    I also watched Toxic and it's even worse because the music is catchy, so it sticks in your head more which is an undesirable outcome.

    In any case, I think that modern music producers are usually more adequate marketing themselves to 12 year olds, since the emotional depth of their music reflects this. I think becoming 'mature' will then not work, because when your audience grows up they will become slightly more observant (not to give them too much credit) and then they'll rather listen to more hip genres such as metal or rap.

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