For months now, Britney Spears and her manager, Larry Rudolph, have been touting “Britney Jean” as Spears’ most personal album, even naming it after her first and middle name to connote a sense of intimacy. While there are certainly nods to what could be private statements about her life, such as on “Perfume,” “Passenger” (which features Katy Perry as one of the co-writers), and “Don’t Cry,” for the most part, Spears sounds more like she’s the muse, not the master here.
If Spears’ vision is on here -and she’s listed as co-writer on all 10 tracks-it often gets overshadowed by the dominant beats and production from the album’s executive producer Will.i.am and such DJ/producers as David Guetta, Swedish House Mafia’s Sebastian Ingrosso and Anthony Preston.
Executive produced by Will.i.am, the 10 tracks, spread out over 36 minutes, are lean and trim, with little bloat, which keeps the album moving nicely from one song to the next, even if some of the beats sound dated. You can’t blame a girl for wanting to move on, but the absence of past collaborators like Max Martin and Dr. Luke is felt.
The album’s release comes one day after Britney Jean turns 32 and a few weeks before she starts a residency in Las Vegas’s Planet Hollywood and in many ways, it has a maturity that some of her past albums have not, including featuring her singing in her shaky alto for much of the set instead of speak/singing such as on “Work Bitch.” “Britney Jean” won’t go down as a Spears’ classic, although it does capture a moment in time — in her life and in pop’s continued fascination with beats.
Below is a track-by-track review:
“Alien”: The album opener, co-produced by William Orbit, has an inviting galloping feel as the latest entry into the folktronica genre. After years of feeling like an alien, Spears sings that she no longer feels alone as the stars guide her home as a mesmerizing backwards loop draws the listener in. It’s one of many tracks on the set that feature Spears signing as opposed to her more familiar speak singing. GRADE: B+
“Work Bitch”: Polarizing single is a deep dance cut with Spears bringing the trouble as she advises how to get that Maserati, hot body, look hot in a bikini, or living in a big mansion: Work bitch. Sounding more like a commercial for 24-Hour Fitness than a classic Spears’ song--or at least until the interesting break in the final third-- she nevertheless brings the attitude and heat that a certain faction of Spears’ fans love about her. GRADE: C
“Perfume”: The current single from “Britney Jean,” the Sia co-write is Spears as we haven’t heard her—or at least not for a long while: singing a straight-ahead ballad with no talking and no heavy beat behind her as on past semi-ballads like “Unusual You” or even all the way back to “Sometimes.” Though still slickly produced, on “Perfume” the focus is on her vocal and the emotional weight of the lyrics as Spears hopes that the next woman to touch her man can smell her perfume on him. The album’s best track. GRADE: A
“It Should Be Easy” featuring. Will.i.am: Heavily auto-tuned Spears is back after “Perfume’s” respite. Spears and her “Scream & Shout” partner reunite or this dance/electro-clash track. “If there was a scale from one to 10 on my love for you, it’s a million billion/I love you until the day I’m dead,” Spears sings as she and Will.i.am wonder why love has to be so complicated. There’s an interesting song in here, especially given the juxtaposition of the deeper thoughts and the dance beats, but they can’t seem to excavate it. GRADE: C
“Tik Tik Boom” featuring T.I.: Spears positively moans and coos during this dance track about getting horizontal and if you haven’t gotten that point, you will when T.I. lays down a rap about making your toes curl. GRADE: B-
“Body Ache”: Produced by David Guetta and Will.i.am, it’s almost possible to pick out each part the two DJ/producers contributed, from the staccato, layered beats to the crescendos. Sex is on the menu as she wants to show us how she wants us. One of the more accessible tracks, but it’s missing Guetta’s knack for throwing in a irresistibly catchy hook among the beats. GRADE: B-
“Til It’s Gone”: Throbbing disco beats and space-age synths weave in and out of Spears’ stuttering vocals as she’s a slave to the rhythm. “All the memories I’m saving so your love is never fading,” she sings in this tune about, well, “You never know what you’ve got til it’s gone.” It’s hardly an original sentiment, but she makes the cliche sound good, in one of the album’s most diverse vocal performances. GRADE: B
“Passenger”: Co-written by Katy Perry, “Passenger” is a straight-ahead love song lyrically about finding happiness after being willing to cede control. Diplo’s production includes a synthesized, Who-like intro. “It’s hard to jump with no net, but I jumped in and got no regret,” she sings, as the pounding, synthetic melody takes off. “This is living,” she proclaims over and over as her liberation is complete. GRADE: B
“Chillin’ With You” featuring Jamie Lynn: Spears and her little sister go from sweet country to rap in this ballad that goes from bad to worse, whether it’s the rap of the constant repeating of “Chillin’ wich you.” That’s sweet that Spears wants to help lil sis get her career restarted, but this won’t be the song to do it. GRADE: D
“Don’t Cry”: Spears delivers her finest vocal performance on the mid-tempo album closer about moving on. “Adios, I’m out the door,” as she admonishes her ex to not cry in a nice twist. Fun whistled intro and outro with a heavy beat complementing her kiss off. GRADE: B