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Britney Jean

Britney Spears - 2013

Before the release of ‘Britney Jean’, Miss Spears’ eighth studio album, many were making much ado about Britney calling it her ‘most personal album ever’. The more I read of the anticipatory pre-release gossip, I could not understand why. What were they expecting exactly? A sudden ability of Britney’s to write lyrics the depth of a Dylan or Carole King? Music that would speak so inertly to her soul, we would finally get to hear from the ‘real’ Britney. Confessions of a troubled girl, now a woman? Well, whatever it was they thought was going to transpire over the 13 new tracks from the Princess of Pop, unsurprisingly so, it didn’t. Now we are dealing with resentment as justified as that from someone who reads Dr Seuss expecting Dostoyevsky. Let’s get down to brass tacks here. Britney Spears is an entity. This is horribly sad. Painful in admittance but alas, truth. The poor woman these days barely has a personality let alone a soft grip on what getting personal really means. She is unbearably awkward in her TV appearances and it is well known and documented that she only answers pre-approved questions with pre-approved answers. To Britney and her team, spontaneity is just something that happens to other people. Since her melt down in 2007 involving a set a clippers and subsequent committal to a psychiatric ward, Britney Spears, still under her father’s conservatorship, has become the most carefully censored and perfectly polished pop product, her image protected in detail too fine to notice at times. That being said, in many ways she is actually very accessible to all. Twitter. Facebook. Instagram. Britney is only ever a daily update away from us. Of course, it should come as no surprise that there is a team behind all of these accounts. Every tweet. Every picture. Every status update. All carefully constructed by Team Britney to avoid any controversy or calamity and to most importantly keep the hype alive and Britney’s stardom alight. With this in mind, when public declarations from Britney (uh-hum) came out concerning her latest effort being her most ‘personal album ever’, there should have been a realization that this statement had more to do with selling the album than a descriptive promise of what lay in wait. Frankly, it was genius. It got people talking and fantasizing about what was in store. The hype was afoot, the rumor mill lit on fire. Unfortunately, it worked too well. People started to forget that Britney Jean was a BRITNEY SPEARS POP ALBUM! When Dave Matthews or Alison Goldfrapp preview an album by saying it’s their most personal work ever, then I would expect more depth to be found in their upcoming work than in previous albums, but Britney? How deep and declarative did we think we were going here when the first single was entitled ‘Work B*tch’? Reading title tracks such as ‘Body Ache’, ‘Tik Tik Boom’ and ‘Chillin’ With You’, certainly didn’t lead me to believe Britney was going to get any more ‘personal’ than she has in the past. The album does (possibly) have hints of Britney referring to her conservatorship such as in the Katy Perry ‘co-written’ track, Passenger (I’ll let you lead the way now/Cause I want you to take the wheel/I’ve never been a passenger though/I never knew how good it could feel). Of course it could also be about her new beau but let’s give her the benefit of the doubt and assume it’s about her finally feeling comfortable in letting others, especially her father, lead her through her own life. Shockingly personal? Well, it’s a topic she hasn’t addressed before so sure, why not. There are other moments in the album that seem to allow us to glimpse what could quite possibly be a more human Britney and not just the polished pop product. Perfume, the second single from the album, conveys a very sincere sense of insecurity as it speaks to a feeling of paranoia we can all be subject to when we love someone but have fears, justified or not, that ‘there’s three of us in’ the relationship. ‘Do I imagine it or catch these moments?’ It’s not something you think one of the most successful and wanted women in the world would deal with. The irrationality of the sentiment is quite stunning coming from Britney as she is able to convey, honestly, such an average-everyday-person feeling. Unfortunately, for those believing that the album would be dominated by more of the same outpouring as those two songs give us, the rest of the tracks on the album deal with the usual suspects as far as subject matters go in her songs. Relationships deteriorating (Til It’s Gone, Don’t Cry which alas, is not a cover of the GnR classic). Relationships blossoming (Chillin’ With You, It Should Be Easy, Now That I Found You) and of course dancing, having a good time and getting turned on (Tik Tik Boom, Body Ache). With all this in mind, what exactly were Team Britney getting on at with all this ‘most personal album ever’ jargon. Simple: We already know they had to sell the album so marketing was in play. However, this album is so completely different to Femme Fatale (in my mind her best work and quite possibly one of the best pop albums ever recorded), that they had to point out the difference and sell via that sharp contrast. Fatale was groove, groove, groooooove dance tracks. High energy, forte from beginning to end, take control of the listener. Demand of them. Very little melody was incorporated and there wasn’t a single ballad on the entire album. It was made to move us through beats and with little thought spent on the lyrics or getting overly emotional. The music was phenomenal. Lyrical content? Highly superficial. Fast forward to Britney Jean and we are in a whole different world. Instead of beats being that which move us, Britney and co. are making us feel through far more impassioned lyrics and much larger variations in tempo and most importantly, melody not rhythm is thrust to the forefront. Who knows how much auto-tuning is used throughout the album and frankly, who cares. If by now you are still listening to Britney Spears for her vocal prowess you have managed to keep yourself in a very cocooned state of fandom. That being said and a pinch of salt taken when listening to her throughout Britney Jean, Britney sounds fantastic on this album. Given melodies that have shape, Britney is allowed to show off the vocal ability that she does have. She plays with her tone. She adds tension to her voice as needed when the melody takes her to her upper range (pre-head voice). When asked to descend into her lower and more comfortable register, she uses the opportunity to route herself and encompass her voice into the music. There she becomes another instrument in the mix and partners everything else in the song instead of standing on top of it all. Overall, this is Britney Spears’ tour de force as far as singing goes (how much that is saying?...depends on how much of a fan you are). One could actually argue and very easily so, that her vocal performance on Passenger is perhaps her best to date. With all the variations in melody and tone shifting, Britney is able to convey an emotional range that is vast which, after Femme Fatale, certainly could be construed as her getting far more ‘personal’ within this album. In addition to her vocal output, an argument by Team Britney for this being Britney’s ‘most personal album ever’ could be found in tracks 8 through 12. These five tracks, from Passenger through to Hold On Tight, lack the up-tempo or demanding nature of her dance or hip-hop-esque tracks. At the same time none of those tracks lend themselves to the Britney Spears cheesy ballad formula. This section of the album feels so completely different to any other stretch of five songs previously recorded by Britney. However, within this unfamiliarity somehow these songs wrap around us, making a home of themselves. Instead of directing the listener to follow, they somehow make us feel invited to share the music within. The verses for Chillin’ With You are a sea of beautiful calm that allows us to sink deep into Britney’s voice and also into her sister, Jamie’s voice. I won’t say Jamie has a better voice but she sounds great and the contrast in her tone quality to her older sister’s is perfect for the track. Unfortunately, the track, which had the potential to be a highlight of her career is ruined by some idiot putting in some ludicrous breakdown after each chorus where the girls monotonously say the song title over and over again. Most certainly one of the biggest crimes in pop history is that putrid section of distasteful arsenic. Don’t Cry provides us with a nice brooding minor verse contrasted with an uplifting chorus which oddly enough, is not implemented by Miss Spears in her songs as much as you might think. Now That I Found You, the final track, is a bit of a miss for me. I think there’s supposed to be some kind of country influence in the up-tempo, bouncy song but after the previous five tracks It feel like an absolute let down as the final offering on Britney Jean. Truly the low point of the album. The first half of Britney Jean is as you might expect. The singles are there as track 2 and 3, ‘Work B*tch’ and ‘Perfume’ and then the following four tracks are dance orientated with the obligatory hip-hop heavy influenced track, Tik Tik Boom. That particular track is actually quite a heavy hitter and works as well as one of the best tracks on Femme Fatale, Drop Dead (Beautiful). The chorus, though repetitive lyrically, is pure solid pavement biting and I dare you to keep the sneer of your face while your head bobs up and down. It’s rather a shame that T.I. has to appear in it and ruin the sense of female empowerment that Britney brings to the track by rapping ‘She like the way I beat her’. Brilliant. Of course as executive producer on the album, will.i.am shows up on It Should Be Easy and although it’s a good track, it’s generic in its ‘could-be-any-black-eyed-peas-track’ formula. The use of the distorted synth on the track makes it feel as though the track is treading the same water that was extremely fresh and unique with Femme Fatale but now is used up. It sounds as though it could be a lost track from Fatale. Fortunately, that album was so insanely good, even sound-a-like tracks such as It Should Be Easy are off good quality. I tip my hat to Body Ache for its throwback 80’s slightly distorted chord bashing piano part. As much as the last track of Britney Jean is the low point of the album, the first track, Alien, is not only the high point of the album but also a high point in any of Britney’s previous seven albums. This track is pure gold and is as good an opening track as there ever was. The lyrics and music are married to perfection. As she speaks of being lost in the universe, feeling like an alien, the music swirls around her voice giving the sense of drifting in circles in space, so large and desolate. The verses are hunkered down in her lower range. The downward girth from her voice is like an invisible hand gently pulling at us, keeping us in motion as we aimlessly twirl through space and time. The bridge gives Britney the chance to extend her voice, providing hope for the alien in all of us. Even though the chorus is lyrically challenged it falls perfectly into the drive of the beat and quite frankly makes us wish for that section to never end. Alien is a haunting, honest pop track that captures everything that is good about Britney Spears and Britney Jean. The album, in summary, is really, really good. It’s certainly not what one would consider to be a ‘personal’ statement by the real Britney Spears but there are moments that are emotionally gripping and lyrically eye-opening. Due to all that Britney has been through, perhaps this is as ‘personal’ as she gets. She’s still the Princess of Pop first and foremost but after Femme Fatale there was certainly a lot more of Britney, vocally and emotionally, on this, one of the best albums of 2013.

Posted by Andrew Scott

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Comments

This is by far the longest and most in-depth review of the year. Also, this is by far the longest and most in-depth review of a Britney album ever! I'm glad you're enjoying it.

Posted almost 6 years ago by Dsc 0563C. Scott

I read every word and now I'm exhausted. In all seriousness, as crazy as you are, it was a thoroughly planned review. Love it.

Posted almost 6 years ago by TambegifTambe

Posted: 12/12/2013

Review by:

Moi

Andrew Scott


Andrew Scott ranks this as the
#9 favorite album of 2013

Rating: