Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Britney Jean is Triumphant

Since announcing her eighth album, Britney Spears has promised that it would be her most personal one yet. With this reputation preceding it, one would expect Britney Jean to delve intimately into her public meltdown or divulge juicy details behind her split from Jason Trawick earlier this year, but that's not the case. The album is not an autobiography; instead, it's a musical experimentation on which Britney takes risks and distances herself from her previous body of work.

At this point in her career, Britney has nothing to prove. While pop tarts like Lady Gaga, Rihanna, and Miley Cyrus compete to be the raunchiest and most provocative singer out there, concurrently letting whatever talent they have fall to the wayside, Britney is letting her music speak for itself, completely gimmick-free.

Britney Jean is very much like the singer's other self-titled album, Britney (2001), in that it's a transitional album. But while her third album took the "not yet a girl, not yet a woman" from teen queen to the dance diva, delivering club-ready jams with which she has since become synonymous, Britney Jean exposes a vulnerable, more mature side of the icon that could signify a major turning point in her career. It fits, given that she'll turn 32 the day before the album's December 3 release.

The album opens up with an airy mid-tempo called "Alien", one of its strongest tracks. "There was a time I was one of a kind/Lost in a world of me, myself, and I," she coos at the beginning of the space-age song. Upon first listen, "Alien" seems to talk about Britney finding herself in a lover, but the track could easily be a commentary on the singer's fame. After all, what Britney album would be complete without its own "Lucky" or "Piece of Me"?

Singles "Work Bitch" and "Perfume" follow the opener, and their interaction speaks to the album's versatility. The former is an aggressive, bass-heavy club banger devoid of any melodic substance; the latter is a vulnerable 80s-inspired ballad about insecurity and jealousy in a relationship. Together, they span the diverse pop spectrum Britney has covered in her career, but still manage to be fresh and unlike anything the singer has put out before or anything you're likely to hear on the radio.

The next track, "It Should Be Easy", marks the third time Britney has teamed up with will.i.am. The robotic dance song is fun and surprisingly sentimental, but it also proves that the two singers are quickly becoming a tiresome duo.

The fifth song, the T.I.-assisted "Tik Tik Boom", is energizing and extremely catchy; in short, it's a true jam. When Britney harps, "Not too slow and not too quick/Baby make me tik tik boom!", the song immediately demands radio airplay. "Body Ache", crafted by David Guetta, is the perfect successor. It's a simmering mid-tempo on which Britney wants to dance to the night away.

"Til It's Gone", another top speed dance song, is probably the most forgettable song on the album, especially as it follows two prime dance tracks that leaves it in the dust. "Passenger", the guitar-driven, Katy Perry-penned track, follows. Britney letting her hair down while her lover take the wheel: "I've never been a passenger, no/But we'll see more without a map." There's so much potential in this song; not only could it be a hit single, but it could open the door for a pop-rock oriented album in the future.

One of the most bizarre tracks on the album is "Chillin' With You", Britney's duet with sister Jamie Lynn. It's equal parts synthetic and twangy, a unique combination that stands out, but probably not in the way it's supposed to. "Don't Cry", which opens with a haunting Western whistle, closes the album as Britney bids her lover a last goodbye. Still, it's hard not to think of this song as Britney's farewell to her fans. "Pack my bags, can't take no more/Adios, I'm out the door/Hide your tears and dry your eyes/Cause I don't wanna see you cry," she sings. With her Las Vegas residency, we shouldn't expect another album from Britney for another few years, but a longer hiatus wouldn't come as a surprise.

At 10 tracks, the standard edition of Britney Jean is much too short. But every song is unique in its own right, and together, they prove that a legend of Britney's standing doesn't need to cater to the demands of the beat-hungry public. This isn't the album of a pop star, this is the album of a true artist.

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