Today is Britney Spears” 32nd birthday, but she”s giving her fans the present. On Dec. 3, she releases her eighth studio album, “Britney Jean.”
HitFix”s review appeared on Friday. Here”s a round-up of what some of the other critics are saying about Spears” latest, an effort she calls one of her most personal. However, most reviewers (including me) disagree.
The New York Times says the fun has been “leached out”: “…It turns out that “Britney Jean” is about as personal as an airline preboarding announcement….While “Britney Jean” doesn”t make good on its “personal” promise, that”s not its main failing. The bigger letdown is that the music has lost its snap. Between albums, Ms. Spears traded away the teen-pop mastermind Dr. Luke – maybe she was tired of sharing him with Miley Cyrus, Rihanna and Katy Perry – for Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas, who is the executive producer of “Britney Jean.” Like the Black Eyed Peas back in 2009, Ms. Spears and Will.i.am have turned to European disc jockeys who have found dance music”s lowest, least funky common denominator: the steady thump of four-on-the-floor. And they”ve settled for too many tepid tracks.
The Telegraph in the U.K. calls it “aural Botox”: If Britney Spears” eighth album is what happens when the real Spears stands up, she might as well sit back down. When Spears promised a highly “personal” break-up album, the pitch seemed unlikely coming from modern electro-pop”s vaguest avatar, then unlikelier still when the lead single turned out to be a will.i.am-produced Identikit banger titled, touchingly, “Work Bitch”.
But it”s still depressing to find more of the disco-tooled super-producer same here, allied to faintly atypical ballads that, nonetheless, add little to Spears”s synthetic sex-doll sheen.
Rolling Stone says Spears remains the pop queen, who “out-bizarres” fellow female artists like Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga: Britney Jean continues the roll she’s been on in recent years – her 2007 glitch-disco manifesto, Blackout, is one of the most influential albums in modern pop, and 2008’s Circus and 2011’s Femme Fatale are in the same league. In fact, you can split Britney’s career into pre-Blackout and post-Blackout halves, and you’ve got two of the all-time great pop careers. And she’s still way weirder than she might seem on the surface – Britney Jean makes Yeezus sound like a positive-affirmations workshop.
Like her excellent late-summer electro-sleaze hit, “Work Bitch,” Britney Jean adds up the high price of stardom. It’s a concept album about the loneliness of pop life – with a high-profile broken engagement behind her, Brit gets personal and drops her most bummed-out music ever. If the title reminds you of Elton John weeping over Marilyn Monroe, figure it’s meant to, because this poor girl has been getting way too much candle up in her wind lately.
Entertainment Weekly calls her “enigmatic”: Even now, just about to celebrate her 32nd birthday, Britney Spears remains as enigmatic as the Disney-groomed, emotionally insulated teen who greeted us in the late ’90s. It’s part of why we treasure her: The feeling that, even as she sings her most seductive or inventive songs, the real Brit’s off dreaming her unknowable dreams. Britney Jean, which takes its title from her family nickname and has been billed as the most ”personal” of her eight albums, tells you virtually bupkus about her struggles over the years. But in just 10 tidy songs, it brings us closer than ever before to that distant dreamer.
Of course, since it’s a Britney Spears album executive-produced by will.i.am in 2013, it also happily indulges the fantasies of endorphin-seeking EDM festival goers.
The Boston Globe says Spears “barely registers” on the album: “Scream & Shout” turns out to have been a fitting setup for “Britney Jean,” where Spears barely registers on the product with her name on it (twice). With 20 or so producers elbowing each other for focus on 10 tracks (two songs have six listed producers each), it”s no wonder there”s barely room for the singer in the swirl of swerving Ibiza keyboards (“It Should Be Easy”), dubstep bumpers (“Til It”s Gone”) and Selena Gomez castoffs (“Alien”). Her choruses to “Body Ache” and “Work Bitch,” meanwhile, sound like holding-pattern preludes to the club riffs that follow, rather than vice versa, leaving the impression that she”s merely guesting on her own material.
USA Today damns it with faint praise, saying the album offers ” as much grace as anyone could have expected”: Britney Jean (*** out of four), streaming now on iTunes a week ahead of its Dec. 3 release, aims to present this modestly talented young woman who has somehow managed to sustain our interest for 15 years as a cool but accessible dance-pop diva – willing to dangle the occasional profanity to keep us alert, but ultimately more into the groove than anything else.
What do you think of “Britney Jean?”