And so, as 2013 comes to an end, we are finally handed Britney Jean. Not only is it supposed to be Britters’s most personal album – hence the title, y’all – it also rounds off a rather strong series of female-driven pop albums. While comparisons are inevitable (also lazy and unfair) we’ve been a bit worried about the decline in quality of recent Britney Spears albums. Circus was passable, Femme Fatale was fatally forgettable, so whether Britney Spears still has any clout in the pop game is down to Britney Jean. In every sense.
What we know already: she had a cracking comeback last year with Scream & Shout. Work Bitch is a truckload of fun, even though Britney can’t convincingly say the words in person. And Perfume, despite anyone’s protestations, is a very average ballad from a songwriter who may possibly be suffering from prolificacy-related fatigue. Britney Jean starts well though, Alien being immediately likeable and a possible future success, but after the two singles we’re sad to report that Scream & Shout was indeed a fluke, as the wil.i.am-driven It Should Be Easy is something even an Armenian Eurovision act would decline.
Next comes the pop-rapper du jour T.I., fresh from his success (lolz) with Gaga on ARTPOP’s worst track. Mercifully, Tik Tik Boom isn’t as much of a catastrophe as Jewels & Drugs. In fact, there’s something quite hypnotic in its repetition, though this definitely shouldn’t be on the future singles list. Neither, for that matter, should Body Ache, which repeats that really cumbersome EDM formula not entirely dissimilar from Scream & Shout. The good tracks only seem so in comparison: Passenger is serviceable old Britney, and Chillin’ With You – a duet with sister Jamie Lynn – is an exercise in awful, doing justice to neither sibling. It’s one of the worst Britney songs to date (“I drank some white wine/ now I’m walking on the sky”), and we implore Jamie Lynn to stick to the excellent potential of her country music career.
Britney Jean’s problem, as always, is that she just sounds like she’d rather be elsewhere. Even on a supposedly emotional track like Perfume, there’s too much of a disconnect for it to resonate. You could argue that this has always been Britney’s thing, and that songs like Toxic never needed a ‘connect’, but the surface is changing. People are demanding more from their pop stars, and so much of Britney’s life has been in the public eye – sure, we can discount the somewhat lobotomised appearances on Chatty Man and such, but when that starts to infiltrate the studio you have to worry.
If there’s a song with sure-fire hit potential, one glimmer of hope for Britney Jean, it’s Til It’s Gone. Sweltering, blistering euro-dance beats and pure arms-in-the-air joy, it could be a game-changing single for Britney. She sounds at home, the production fits around her perfectly, and it’s the album’s firecracker moment; unfortunately it comes way too late in the game to salvage any of this. Britney Jean, we’re not your lovers, and if we’re honest that Vegas residency couldn’t come any sooner.