Review Summary: Britney? Britney, are you in there?
I've always begrudgingly respected Britney Spears. Between releasing "Toxic" (still her best single, although "Piece of Me" comes close) and recovering from one of the most spectacular meltdowns in recent pop history, there's something about this undeniably vapid 29-year-old that invites a certain cautious admiration. But Spears' newest album, Femme Fatale
is the sound of a pop star handing over her entire persona in exchange for superficial "relevance", which is to say it mostly consists of Spears trying desperately to live up to the album's name. But Spears' understanding of "femme fatale" is hilariously simplistic, reduced to more heavy breathing than usual and lines like "So hot, gimme your gasoline". We're trading vamps in for gas-station hookers and obnoxious suburban party girls.
Which basically means that Britney is often left sounding a lot like Ke$ha. Beats me why one of the biggest pop stars in the world would rather be that obnoxious girl at the party doing way too much blow, but whatever, it's pop music - I get
it. So fine, "Till The World Ends" effectively sounds like a glossier "Blow", which would be all right were it not for the fact that the only reason "Blow" was enjoyable at all was because of its cheap, Nintendo-synth production. Spears effectively takes anything that would have made Ke$ha seem somewhat self-aware and funny and makes it sound as obnoxiously polished as possible. Which isn't to say that "Till The World Ends" (which was, not at all coincidentally, co-penned by Ke$ha) sounds bad - it actually sounds
pretty good, in spite of the predictably awful lyrics - but it sounds like a parody of an artist who may or may not be a big joke herself. Spears' producers do the same thing with "Hold It Against Me", a track that takes the most stereotypical elements of dubstep (hello, wobble bass) just to cash in on that genre's current trendiness. Music this calculated rarely sounds particularly vibrant, so it's no surprise that "Hold It Against Me" is almost completely lifeless, from its annoyingly pedestrian chorus to that breakdown that, once again, verges on parody.
It's still hell of a lot better than the steaming shitpile that was Circus
, which may be the result of pop wizard Max Martin being back in charge of the whole shebang, but it rarely reaches the heights of 2007's Blackout
, Spears' best effort to date. At times, Femme Fatale
seems to be trying desperately to sound "edgy" or - and this is even worse - "weird", as in the atrocious "How I Roll", which opens with some legitimately interesting cut-and-paste electronics that wouldn't sound out of place on Body Talk
, but proceeds to go absolutely nowhere, laying on FruityLoops presets and vocal effects frantically to cover up for the lack of, y'know, actual songwriting. The same thing happens with "Big Fat Bass", which was produced by will.i.am, possibly the most obnoxious man working in pop today. No, that song is actually quite a bit better than I was expecting, sounding like a Black Eyed Peas track with a vocalist who can actually carry the personality needed for a mindless line like "I could be the trouble baby / you could be the bass" to work. But "Big Fat Bass" is perhaps the most blatant example of Femme Fatale
's ostentatious copping of whatever electronic genre is up-and-coming at the moment, what with that criminal trivialization of a title.
Spears fares marginally better when operating within the more familiar confines of bubblegum pop and Eurotrash, but those genres are bland as well as reliable. So Femme Fatale
's best songs ("I Wanna Go", "Trip To Your Heart") are its most boring, and the most sonically interesting stuff (er, everything else) here is execrable. At the very least, Britney isn't trying to fight her way into our hearts anymore; the closest thing here to a ballad is a dumb, danceable, and resolutely unself-aware track about being "in love with a criminal". Later in that song, she says, "This love isn't rational / it's physical". "Disposable" might be a better word, as it fits better with Femme Fatale
as a whole - twelve cuts, none of them particularly memorable, filled with immortal gems of wisdom like "you could be my fuck tonight". Charming.