Fifteen years after “Baby… One More Time” saw her become the world’s most famous girl-next-door, Britney Spears has become something of an elder stateswoman of pop. Disney Channel graduates Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato have all recently cited her as a major influence during their rise to tween-pop stardom. While later this month she kick-starts the kind of Las Vegas residency usually reserved for artists who haven’t graced the upper reaches of the US Hot 100 in years.
The blurb for her eighth studio album and first since entering her thirties, Britney Jean, also implied that Spears’ new mature status may have inspired a more sophisticated sound, with manager Larry Rudolph even going so far as to draw comparisons with Ray of Light. Sadly, despite the presence of William Orbit on opening track, “Alien,” this has little in common with Madonna’s Earth Mother reinvention. In fact, for all the talk of her most personal record to date only the aforementioned shimmering electro-pop ballad hints at the troubles which have turned her into a shell of the all-singing, all-dancing princess of pop she used to be.
And while 2011 predecessor Femme Fatale saw her become an unlikely pioneer with its bursts of dubstep and EDM-pop, Spears, or rather her list of ubiquitous producers, has no interest in pushing any boundaries this time around. Indeed, having recruited the likes of will.i.am, David Guetta and Sia, a trio of hit-makers who appear to have been responsible for every uptempo chart smash of the past five years, Spears is definitely now chasing the zeitgeist rather than shaping it and the majority of these ten tracks offer little more than clichéd declarations of love and heartbreak set to a generic four-to-the-floor beat. Far from the heartfelt and confessional insight into her state of mind that was promised, Britney Jean instead feels disappointingly anonymous.
Reflecting on the isolation she felt during the height of her pop princess reign, Spears compares herself to an extra-terrestrial being as she travels across the universe in search of comfort on a William Orbit-produced electro-ballad which provides a rare glimpse into her fragile state of mind.
Adopting the same faux-British accent she first showcases on “Scream and Shout,” a whip-cracking Spears commands those workshy wannabes who dream of the millionaire lifestyle to start putting in some hard graft on another thunderous but tuneless EDM collaboration with will.i.am: [LISTEN]
Suspicious that her partner is playing away, a paranoid Britney sprays him head to toe with one of her many designer fragrances in a transparent attempt to mark her territory on an emotive Sia-penned ballad that sounds exactly like every other emotive Sia-penned ballad: [LISTEN]
How many superstar DJs took it take to make a generic club banger which manipulates Spears vocals so much she barely sounds human? Three (Romero, Guetta, will.i.am), judging by this duet with the latter, whose declarations of love are almost as vacuous as its EDM-by-numbers production: [LISTEN]
Maintaining her dismal track record when it comes to hip-hop, a sexually-assertive Spears advises T.I. on how to push her buttons over a lackluster wave of trap-lite synths and dirty beats before the rapper makes it clear he doesn’t need a guidebook with a typically boorish display of bravado.
Once again succumbing to the factory-line trash-pop sound that most of her peers have had the sense to walk away from, Spears vows to keep throwing shapes until it hurts on a stale mid-90s leftover which would probably make her dancefloor-assaulting mission even more arduous.
The ‘don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone’ sentiment might be cliched but this is easily Britney Jean‘s strongest uptempo as a heartbroken Spears pines over her long-departed ex on an intense whirlwind of early Daft Punk-esque synth squiggles and relentlessly pulsing beats: [LISTEN]
Kicking off with an intriguing wave of ambient electronica noodling, “Passenger” then descends into the kind of formulaic self-help balladry its co-writer Katy Perry is so fond of as Spears admits she’s never rode shotgun while allowing her new man to take the driving seat: [LISTEN]
Serving up the ‘superstar’ duet that no-one was really clamoring for, Britney teams up with younger sibling Jamie Lynn for a nostalgic look back at more carefree times on a sweet but revelatory-free ode to their sisterhood which bizarrely lurches from woozy acoustic R&B to brash crunk.
Ending Britney Jean on a surprisingly melancholic note, Spears bids farewell to a relationship just before both parties’ waterworks start to flow on an intriguing blend of throbbing 80s-tinged electro, slow-motion beats and a whistle hook you’d expect to hear in a Spaghetti Western: [LISTEN]
Perhaps wisely relegated to bonus track status, Spears pays tribute to her sons Sean and Jayden with a series of over-earnest sentiments which appear to have been lifted from a Hallmark card on a cloying Disney-esque synth-pop ballad which lacks any genuine emotional punch.
Abandoning the AutoTune for once, Spears reverts back to the nasal drawl that became her trademark during her more innocent years on a suitably dreamy synth-pop mid-tempo dedicated to the mysterious man who enters her consciousness every time she falls asleep: [LISTEN]
One of Britney Jean‘s few genuinely honest moments, Spears looks back at a particular period in her troubled life with disdain before giving thanks to the man who rescued her on an unashamedly corny piece of Eurodance which takes its cue from the country house of Avicii‘s “Wake Me Up“: [LISTEN]