Britney Jean Spears is quite simply an icon.
In her fourteen years as a global sensation, musical catalyst and pop star extraordinaire, she’s had a spate of up-and-downs that rival any kind of popular drama series or soapy novel. Fortunately, after a hugely-publicized breakdown, she rebuilt herself as a singer, first with the safe Circus which brought her back onto the pop playing field, and then two years ago with the dramatic club collection Femme Fatale which was an irreverent, effervescent record full of dance-pop and electronic-house-pop anthems that remain catchy to this day.
Eighth album Britney Jean – a term of endearment, she claims, between her family and herself and loved ones – has been touted as her most personal album for years and given that she’s now a woman (no longer a girl, so it seems) with a family and a lifetime of experience under her belt, it was with a small but significant amount of interest that the record would peel back the layers of Ms. Spears, the singer, and reveal Britney, the person.
The songs on Britney Jean seem very solidly split between vulnerable ballads and mid-tempo tunes, and the kind of four-to-the-floor club bangers that have solidified Britney’s presence as queen of the EDM-pop kingdom.
Leading the charge on those bangers (unrelated to the unfortunate Miley Cyrus album of the same year called Bangerz) is lead single ‘Work Bitch’ which is a call-to-arms command for every uninspired person to make changes in their lives with a house-pop beat that works wonders on an empty dancefloor. Later on in the record, album standout ‘Til It’s Gone’ is a fun blast of electropop cloaked in a deep electronic production that should be part of every DJ’s repertoire, and ‘has-to-be-future-single’ ‘It Should Be Easy’ with executive producer Will.i.am vastly improves on the dire ‘Scream & Shout’ by actually using Britney and making it a more joyful and inventive EDM tune as a result.
However, sadly, a lot of the uptempo club tunes feel a touch uninspired – ‘Body Ache’ is a generic club banger that screams “filler” and ‘Tik Tik Boom’, despite the hip-hop and trap beat that is a new sound for Ms. Spears, is still skippable and filler.
The ballads are definitely the songs that make the record much more notable – album opener ‘Alien’ is a midtempo, William Orbit-produced slice of pop that is mesmerisingly catchy while ‘Passenger’ is full of stuttering synths and great vocals that make a very midtempo, sweet album cut. Best of all might be second single ‘Perfume’ which is possibly Spears’ most original single release to date and a devastating, vulnerable ballad that tells the story of a girlfriend clinging to her attempts to keep her boyfriend at home, and is achingly brilliant.
The rest of the songs are a little more varied – ‘Chillin’ With You’ is an unusual duet with her little sister Jamie Lynn (who appears to be on the verge of a country music career) which transforms from a country guitar ditty into and electronic-flecked R&B banger helmed with notably serene vocals from the older Spears sister, while album closer (at least on the standard edition) is the rather flat ballad ‘Don’t Cry’ which ends the album on a largely unremarkable note.
By and large, Britney Jean is a strange album, seeming almost divided into two different Spears personas which producers and Britney herself seem keen on cultivating – in one corner we have the solid dance songs and club tunes, in the other, the emotional and heartfelt ballads that were all but missing from Femme Fatale. However, the album works when you consider them as two separate, five-songs-a-piece EPs, each which showcase Britney’s talent for dance-pop smashes and heartfelt pop ballads respectively.
While many will see the quietly-released Britney Jean as a rather strange record for Britney to have unleashed onto the world, it also feels her most personal and vulnerable for a number of years which is something worth celebrating. Britney Spears may have passed her most influential phase in her career, but she remains, undoubtably, an icon, and if she can retain her position atop the sphere of global pop divas, more albums with the vulnerability of Britney Jean wouldn’t go amiss and the world of pop would be all the better for it.