This record smacks of someone too distracted by concerts and kids to properly work it in the studio.
Britney is just churning it out
Britney Spears Britney Jean (RCA) ⋆⋆
Red lights flash and alarm bells loudly clang when it emerges that a forthcoming album is the last of a lengthy record deal. “Contractual obligation” releases are so notorious for being substandard that Monty Python famously named their slightly slapdash final LP after the phenomenon. If only every half-hearted artist was so honest.
Britney Spears’s eight-album deal with Jive/RCA has encompassed every swing and roundabout of that contentious chart career, from her iconic fresh-faced heyday to the more sobering reality, 15 years on.
Britney succeeded Whitney Houston as the media embodiment of the damaged pop diva, although there are signs of a more stable future. The now 32-year-old singer begins a two-year Las Vegas residency later this month and actively toned down some of the traditional raunchiness for this release, thinking of the children.
Spears had pronounced Britney Jean “the most personal album I’ve done” a few weeks before its release. The subsequent lack of a concerted promotional campaign suggested a lack of genuine commitment, however, and so it proves. This record smacks of someone too distracted by those concerts and kids to properly work it in the studio.
Only 10 tracks and 36 minutes long (the Deluxe version has four, best avoided, extra songs), Britney Jean actually offers us remarkably little of its star.
A heady roster of producers provide the backing, from general overseer will.i.am to the ambient-minded William Orbit, but Spears’s contributions often feel hurriedly tacked on. The tone is set by Alien, which features a dramatic trance intro from Orbit but is then mortally wounded by an awkwardly delivered opening line. Passenger, co-written by Katy Perry, suffers a similar fate: launched by Diplo’s diverting techno, it labours under a vocal that sounds as if Spears was suffering a nasty cold.
Anything but intimate, several of the duller tracks – the turgid Til It’s Gone, for example – could have been written by computer algorithm: take a cliché, add generic beats and churn out. Oh, for the quirky humour of an Oops!… I Did It Again.
The only shaft of creative light is the recent single Perfume, written with Sia Furler, who seems contractually obliged to appear on every album this year. A realistic take on relationship paranoia (“I hope she smells my perfume”), it’s perfectly suited to Spears’s persona.
One suspects, though, that even with 100 shows lined up, those Vegas set-lists will remain largely unsullied by songs from Britney Jean.