Is this Britney’s “most personal record yet” as promised?
After a more than two-and-a-half-year wait since 2011’s Femme Fatale, Britney Spears has officially returned to the pop music game with the release of her eighth studio album, Britney Jean. Promoted as her “most personal record yet,” the will.i.am-executive-produced set made the #BritneyArmy stand at attention, intrigued by the idea that they were about to access a new level of intimacy with their idol. Does the album deliver on this promise?
Well, yes and no. Tracks like “Passenger” and “Perfume” conjure up the same kind of behind-closed-doors vulnerability we know from “Everytime,” and “Alien” offers “Piece Of Me“-style insights on fame. Moving away from the lyrics, the melisma featured on “Don’t Cry” is so reminiscent of the …Baby One More Time era, that it may just break your heart — starting from the bottom, naturally.
But then, how do you solve a problem like “Work B**ch“? Obviously, the unapologetic club banger is a flawless addition to the four-on-the-floor-ney canon, but the dominatrix fantasy is anything but “personal,” at least in any conventional sense. So maybe the real problem isn’t that Britney Jean falls short of its “most personal record yet” promise, and more so that such a promise should never have been chosen as the record’s selling point? Remember, selling you the fantasy has always been one of Britney’s strengths.
That, and the fact that on at least four of her albums (Britney, In The Zone, Blackout, Femme Fatale), she has assembled a truly stellar team to craft boundary-pushing pop gold. While Britney Jean does incorporate intriguing sonic elements like 8-bit video game samples and ’90s house throwback chords, neither of those additions are as forward-thinking as, say, the infusion of dub-step into Femme Fatale back in 2011.
Lady Gaga is the most recent artist to dabble with gaming sound effects (check out the “Sonic The Hedgehog” whirs in verse two of “Venus“), and Katy Perry slayed the CeCe Peniston game with “Walking On Air.” Hell, Azealia Banks’ FANTASEA mixtape experimented with both postmodern pop elements, and that was released back in the summer of 2012.
Regardless, while Britney Jean may not usher us into the future of pop, the result is a solid 10-song track list (or 14 if you nabbed the deluxe edition) that takes everything you love about this present pop moment, and wraps it all up in a pretty flawlessly tied Britney bow. The record may not be as revolutionary as some of its predecessors, but — HELLO — B-girl ain’t lost the beat. Now, let’s jump over drama, land on our feet, and review each track one by one through the magic of Britney GIFs.
It’s rare that you get an album opener that both sets the mood effectively and could be released as a stand-alone track on its own merits. Through its hypnotizing instrumental and ethereally altered “ooh” vocals, “Alien” does just that.
Its lyrics could describe the isolation that comes with fame, or perhaps the loneliness that stems from simply being single: “There was a time I was one of a kind/ Lost in a world of me, myself, and I/ Was lonely then/ Like an alien.” Either way, the Britney stream — you’re entering it.
2.) “Work B**ch”
Whether you’re talking about Britney Jean’s lead single itself or the Ben Mor-directed video, one thing is clear: “Work Bitch” is DIZZYING. From the revved-up pulsing synth to the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it quick cuts — not to mention that #sharkweek tension, MERCY! — the track will make you wanna pass out harder than Liza Minnelli at the end of “Mein Herr,” even if you were just sitting on your ass listening. To paraphrase literally anybody who just saw “Paris Is Burning” for the first time: WORK, B**CH.
Read the rest of our track-by-track review of Britney Spears’ Britney Jean after the jump.
While the raw emotion and tender fragility on display in the album’s second single cannot be denied, something about “Perfume” feels a little off-brand. The whole “Stand By Your Man” ethos and that “I hope she smells my perfume” tactic seem incongruous with the woman who once proudly proclaimed that: “My loneliness ain’t killing me no more.” Nevertheless, it’s still a worthy entry in the ballad-ney canon — meaning BRB, WEEPING.
4.) “It Should Be Easy” featuring will.i.am
OK, so by the looks of “THE INTERNET,” much of the #BritneyArmy seems pretty up in arms about track No. 4. To be fair, Brit’s heavily processed vocals are a bit jarring upon first hearing them.
But, after a few listens, I think the real reason for the negativity is not because the song is bad. (Admit it, it’s easily the soundtrack to your wildest Paris Hilton-DJed Ibiza foam pit fantasies.) Rather, “It Should Be Easy” just doesn’t totally sound like a Britney Spears track. Were it included on will.i.am’s #willpower, it would be right at home. Not bad, just not quite Britney. Got it? Golf claps.
5.) “Tik Tik Boom” featuring T.I.
Remember that whole video game sample thing I mentioned up top? It’s featured heavily in Brit’s top-notch T.I. collab. From the 8-bit “Mega Man”-esque intro to the thudding chorus bass that drops harder than a Thwomp, this flawless club banger is definitely one for the gaymers.
And just like that, no one ever made out with me again. Whatever, look at all the “Tik Tik Boom” f***s I give.
6.) “Body Ache”
Speaking of super sexXxii*~ pop-cultural references, “Body Ache” is full of console gaming sound effects galore. There’s a little bit o’ “The Legend Of Zelda” stabbing here, some “Super Mario World” spin-jump there, and a whole lotta me making out with NO ONE sprinkled throughout eternity.
This song’s also pretty heavy with the dance music throwbacks. Over heavenly mid-’90s piano chords, Britney gently sings: “I wanna dance till my body ache/ A little bit longer/ Turn you on, make you radiate/ A little bit stronger.” Coupled with the slamming, digitized drop, “Body Ache” has got one sexy, stuttering time waiting for you on the dance floor.
7.) “Til It’s Gone”
This is a story about a girl named “BEST SONG ON THE ALBUM.” No, but seriously, “Til It’s Gone” blends a robotic, Aqua-style musical structure with an “I Wanna Go“-esque buildup, and that’s not even getting to the utter cyclone that is the “Final Fantasy” final boss fight chorus instrumental. (It’s Sephiroth-ney, bitch.)
You know how I said “Work Bitch” was dizzying? Track No. 7 makes the lead Britney Jean single look like a passed highway sobriety test. Forget wigs. On “Til It’s Gone,” Britney’s straight-up snatching your soul. Ya been warned!
As noted on 2008’s “Circus,” Brit’s like the ringleader; she calls the shots. However, by the sound of the Sia-co-penned “Passenger,” she’s ready to let someone else slide into the driver’s seat: “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 would feel.” Couple those lyrics with an intro that’s like the aural equivalent of “Koyaanisqatsi,” and you’ve got an ode to letting go fit for any aimless road trip.
9.) “Chillin’ With You” featuring Jamie Lynn Spears
Obviously, it’s wonderful to hear Britney collaborating with her little sister like this, an event that’s clearly been foretold by prophets for, like, centuries. (FYI, Nostradamus stans for Britney.) As demonstrated in her debut single, “How Could I Want More,” Jamie Lynn’s got some pipes, y’all! But, something’s just… off.
Perhaps the vocals are a little too altered. Maybe, an acoustic touch would have proven more effective. Either way, it’s sad to hear a decent track like “Chillin’ With You” and so clearly imagine how much better it could have been with a few tweaks.
10.) “Don’t Cry”
The more things change, the more they stay the same. After the track’s opening few instrumental bars (equal parts Suzanne Vega’s “Left Of Center,” sparse spaghetti western orchestral, and that “Super Mario Bros.” underground theme), you realize that the most attention-grabbing part of the Britney Jean closer is, well, Britney herself.
The vocals are deep and raw; they dip it low and pick it up slow like you maybe haven’t heard in years. The musical structure of the chorus and the way the melisma on “cry” connects to the next lyric are like something straight off of Ms. Spears’ debut album.
Regardless of whether Britney Jean is actually Britney’s “most personal record yet” or if that selling point was the most powerful theme around which to rally the #BritneyArmy troops, it certainly rings true here. Despite Britney’s titular orders to the contrary, you better believe we are WEEPING by the end of “Don’t Cry.” Brava.
Photo credit: RCA Records / GIFs: T. Kyle MacMahon of Reality TV GIFs, MuuMuse, Tumblr’s britneyspearsgifs, Tumblr’s xmidnightfantasy, Tumblr’s maikeyc, Poison Paradise, Tumblr’s feels-like-britney-2001, Breathe Heavy, Tumblr’s xmidnightfantasy, Tumblr’s xmidnightfantasy