NEW YORK — From the sound of things, Britney Spears appears to be channeling Madonna on her fourth album.
The pop singer, who took a step toward womanhood on Britney, has taken the Material Girl's cue, seeming to address more adult themes and styles while retaining a sense of girlish fun on her upcoming disc, which she previewed for MTV recently at Battery Studios.
"I've really been able to take my time and have creative control and make [the new album] special, special, special," she said.
Producers who have worked with the singer — including Rodney Jerkins, the Neptunes, 7 Aurelius, the Matrix and Fred Durst — have described the new material as having a trip-hop vibe, reminiscent of Madonna's "Ray of Light" (see "Who's Been Hooking Up With Britney? We Got 'Em To Talk").
Parts of Spears' suggestive "Touch of My Hand," one of three songs the singer played for MTV, merit that comparison. With a Middle Eastern influence, the song is sleek and fluid, with Spears singing in a slightly lower register of her desire to be "out of control": "I will be bold/ Going to the places where I can be out of control/ Don't want to explain tonight/ All the things I try to hide."
"It's one of my favorite tracks on the album," Spears said. "I like to compare it to 'That's the Way Love Goes,' kind of a Janet Jackson thing."
While "Touch of My Hand" makes it clear what Spears wants, the dance song "Brave Girl" is about finding out what you want in the first place. Backed by choppy, electro-funk beats, she sings in a bouncy near-rap, "She's going to find her passion, she's going to find her way, she's going to get right out of this/ She don't want New York, she don't want L.A., she's going to find that special kiss."
"It's basically about going out and having a good time," Spears said.
The bubbly nature of "Brave Girl" also seems to be more indicative of what the rest of the album might sound like, according to sources close to Spears who've heard more tracks and describe them as upbeat.
Of the songs previewed, "Every Time" is Spears' most adult and her closest attempt at a traditional pop ballad. "Every Time" has a lilting piano intro accompanying the singer's breathy vocals, which build from soft to strong, despite lyrics that suggest she feels otherwise. "Go to sleep ... why carry on without me?/ Every time I try to fly/ Without my wings/ I feel so small."
"Sometimes when I get kind of bored, I come behind here and play the piano," Spears said while giving a tour of her studio space. "There's a piano in the hotel room, so I was really excited. I don't know what 'C' is or, like, all that, but I do my own thing."
One thing you won't find on the album is a response track to ex-boyfriend Justin Timberlake's "Cry Me a River," despite rumors to the contrary. "You know, it's funny," she said. "I read that I wrote this song and I wrote these lyrics, and that's not my style. I would never do that."
Spears is the guest host of several radio concert festivals this weekend, including Q102's Q Concert 14 on Friday (May 30) at Philadelphia's Tweeter Center, KISS 108's Kiss Concert 2003 on Saturday at the Tweeter Center in Mansfield, Massachusetts, and New York station Z100's Zootopia 2003 at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.