Oops… she’s done it again. The legend herself, Britney Spears, returns to the circus of the music business with her latest studio album for RCA Records, Britney Jean. Oft-described as her most personal album yet, from the title to a duet with her younger sister, that positioning fails to properly describe the set, a mere collection of odd ends and bits that don’t have much connection to one another at all. The album, at just 36 minutes in length, is a quick trip into the world of the pop princess, but a ride that isn’t a satisfactory one. In fact, is it even a ride at all? Judge for yourself as the album unravels.
Opener “Alien” sets the electronic mood for the album, a fun and spacey pop song with a pounding drum beat and a repetitive chant about how Spears is “not alone”. Sadly, the distortion on it is quite noticeable and detracts from the quality of it. (A leaked demo of the song did not feature the effect.) The two singles so far follow that, “Work Bitch” and “Perfume”; “Work” didn’t quite impress radio given its edgy sound and controversial lyric (did you really want to hear the “Work Work” edit on the air?) while “Perfume” has yet to fully freshen the popular landscape and likely won’t due to lagging sales.
Towards the middle is the will.i.am collaboration “It Should Be Easy”, a sort of Part 2 to their previous single together, “Scream & Shout”. With heavily processed vocals and strong EDM sounds, it actually isn’t the worst song of the bunch, as Spears tells her lover, “if there was a scale from 1 to 10/On my love for you, it’s million billion” and pleads with him, “please don’t mess with my head.” “Tik Tik Boom”, though not one of my favorite tracks, seems to be a fan favorite from the initial reviews, a slower-paced but still solid EDM track that was originally meant for G.R.L., another failed Robin Antin project.
“Body Ache” quickens the pace with a synth-heavy arrangement that rivals even “Work Bitch”; in fact, it almost feels like a sequel with a more sensual lyric and harder arrangement. At least she sounds like she’s in the mood to party, stating, “I wanna dance ’til my body ache/Show you how I want ya.” Rawr. The obvious third single choice is next on the menu, “Til It’s Gone”, as Spears relays the classic message that many have tackled: “You never know what you got ’til it’s gone.” That would also represent the missed opportunity that awaits RCA should they not pull the trigger. We’re begging you, please.
Changing things up slightly is “Passenger”, a rock-influenced dance number in which she proclaims, “I’ve never been a passenger/I never knew how good it could feel,” one of the more ironic lines on here. Think about it. Even with her upcoming two-year residency in Las Vegas, is she truly in the driver’s seat? This one doesn’t stall out, but the car’s virtually worn down by this point. “Chillin’ With You”, a duet with younger sister Jamie Lynn, supplies the breakdown; what could have been a great poppy ballad coughs and sputters through an irritating and lackluster chorus. (Also, younger sis has the edge vocally.) Closer “Don’t Cry” slows it down and ends on vital note: “This is gonna be our last goodbye/Our love is gone, but I’ll survive.” Yes, she will survive and her older material will as well, but this album? It’ll be “gone” before you know it.
Unfortunately, the album’s disappointing results may be partially to blame on the cyclical nature of Spears’s career, which seems to give us a discouraging outlook every six years or so. Leadoff release “Work Bitch”, much like 2001’s “I’m A Slave 4 U” and 2007’s “Gimme More”, were moderate sales singles that radio couldn’t fully support. Second single “Perfume”, to the same effect, will essentially end up like “I’m Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman” and “Piece Of Me”, respectively – perhaps underrated within her catalogue, but CHR radio will dump it somewhere in the 20’s. Then, there are the album sales; Britney was significantly down from Oops!… I Did It Again, while Blackout was also a sharp drop from In The Zone, becoming her first #2 album (even if it was by a rule change.) Point is, expect this one to miss the top spot, perhaps debut somewhere in the 100-125,000 range first week, and barely scrape Gold. That’s at least what I’m thinking at the moment.
Beyond my best excuse, this album isn’t a cohesive set of songs, nor is it one for just casual fans (like I am.) There are some enjoyable moments and “Til It’s Gone” could save the era commercially, but otherwise, Spears and RCA are most concerned with the upcoming Las Vegas shows and have no regard for how this does beyond the first week peak. Even that may not be important to them. With no conscious effort to promote the singles or get her doing a proper set of television appearances (likely restricted by her rehearsals), this era is doomed. However, there will be a core group of fans who’ll come out for this. This album will ultimately beg the question if we actually need new music from Spears every few years or so or if we can just rely on her past efforts in her already amazing fifteen year career. I’m not sure myself, but Britney is Britney, who are we to deny that? Britney Jean is not her best work (bitch), but she’s still kicking it and that’ll have to do.