BRITNEY SPEARS: BRITNEY JEAN (2013)
1) Alien; 2) Work Bitch; 3) Perfume; 4) It Should Be Easy; 5) Tik Tik Boom; 6) Body Ache; 7) Till It's Gone; 8) Passenger; 9) Chillin' With You; 10) Don't Cry; 11) Brightest Morning Star; 12) Hold On Tight; 13) Now That I Found You.
Hitting a new image is one thing, but sustaining it on a reasonable level is quite another. With will.i.am of The Black Eyed Peas as executive producer, and a small stormtrooper unit of about 50,000 people credited for additional production work, Britney Jean is the (not) long-awaited sequel to Femme Fatale, once again promoting the «Princess of Pop» as reigning ruler of the latest and trendiest in electronic dance groove — even if it means taking cues from K-Pop, which I feel is one of the uncredited influences, or pretending that this is really a «deeply personal» record, aiming for your body and soul at the same time.
Which is exactly what makes Britney Jean, ultimately, a draggy disappointment after the harmless catchy silliness of the previous album. As far as I am concerned, it is impossible to take Britney Spears «seriously», be it fifteen or fifty years into her career (and I shudder to think that the possibility of a 70-year old Britney Spears coming up with another album remains open). The issue of whether she has or does not have real feelings to express does not actually worry me as much as the fact that she is just a bad actor; her only successful role has been that of a sex machine, and this is exactly the role that seems to be missing from Britney Jean.
Instead, we get ʽWork Bitchʼ, a relatively generic EDM tune with a message — a message that actually makes sense, considering that we do indeed sometimes forget just how much hard work goes into the success story of a mainstream pop star. The problem is, those techno synth loops and those ridiculous auto-tuned vocals aren't exactly the kind of product that would convince me of the necessity of said hard work. It's such a stupid-sounding groove, and such an expressionless, colorless vocal, that the conversion efficiency looks close to zero: I'd even take Mick Jagger's ʽLet's Workʼ over this one any day as far as the message is concerned, and that was arguably one of the worst songs he'd ever done.
The majority of these tunes, however, deal with softer feelings: romance, yearning, loneliness, getting rid of loneliness, jealousy, and whatever else there is in the same line of work — as illustrated by the second single, the rhythmic power ballad ʽPerfumeʼ that she co-wrote with Australian songwriting hack Sia Furler (who seems to have collaborated with about 99% of «Pop Divas» throughout the 2000s). If the wooden intonations and repetitiveness of the chorus do not get you, maybe the story will — it's like, there's this guy, and Britney's got a crush on him, and there's this other chick, and she's kinda jealous, and she wants her to know she's got the right to this guy without telling it in her face, so she's gonna smear the guy in her perfume to «mark my territory», and we never get to know how it ends, but ain't that a thrill? (Spoiler: the guy gets killed, dismembered, buried in the woods, and his ghost returns from the grave to drive Britney into an asylum... oh wait, that's the officially unreleased Alice Cooper/Rob Zombie mix).
Neither the singles nor any other track on here deserves serious comment, I think. There are occasional vocal and instrumental hooks, with Autotune and mind-bogglingly simplistic synth loops accounting for most of them, but it all sounds emotionally fake ("I'm blind from the tears that fall like rain" — yeah, right; are those the same tears that are responsible for Autotune's «disruption» of the vocals?), verbally inane ("I laughed so much that I cried / I danced so much till I was tired" — don't they even try to find decent rhymes any more?), and sonically disappointing (ʽTik Tik Boomʼ could have at least used some realistic ticking and booming effects, but instead it's just the same old creaky synth tones and a robotic vocal).
The sequencing is also a drag, as they put a whole bunch of utmostly lethargic sentimental ballads at the end of the album — and in the finale, which is supposedly supposed to wrap things up in one big final ball of heavenly joy (ʽNow That I Found Youʼ), do you know how they convey this joy? That keyboard riff would have made Mother Goose turn over in her goosey grave, although maybe some Teletubbies fans would have found it suitable.
Cutting a needlessly long story short, Britney Jean is further proof that (a) it is impossible for Britney Spears to sustain a credible new image for more than one record in a row, before it is ruined with futile attempts to add «soul» to it at the expense of groove quality; (b) it is impossible for Britney Spears to convince us that she is an actual human being, at least not through her music; (c) the majority of today's corporate songwriters and producers should go back to their ploughs, looms, and cowsheds, in order to make the world a better place; (d) no matter what your real birthname is, you do not go generating associations with classic era Michael Jackson by means of your album titles — I mean, do you really need any extra reasons for looking stupid, when there's already more than enough for a decisive thumbs down here?
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