Britney Spears – “Britney Jean”

(Photo Credit: Rolling Stone)

Grade: B

Key Tracks: “Alien” “Passenger”

Britney’s eighth album has been heralded by her as her most personal album yet, and a conceptual one about “the loneliness of pop life.” She’s not exactly uninformed on the subject – we all witnessed her meltdown a few years ago and her surprising comeback. But Britney is now staring down a new issue – this is her first album in her ’30′s, and she has to fight to stay relevant. Pop music can be a lonely world, and Britney knows it best.

The first track, “Alien,” works the best for the concept – a very literal song about being alone, with a feeling of reluctant acceptance about it. “Work Bitch,” the leadoff single, sees Britney giving very simple advice to younger singers who are trying to make their way (although ironic, given Britney’s instant fame). Songs later on down the album help to bolster the concept of loneliness, like “Don’t Cry” and “Passenger,” a great track about not really being in control of your life, having everything dictated. “Chillin’ With You,” a duet, would totally break the concept if it wasn’t for the duet being with family – her own sister Jamie-Lynn (remember her??).

Unfortunately, where the concept works at the album’s bookends, it almost totally disappears in the middle. will.i.am and T.I. show up for guest spots that feel out of place on a somewhat bummer record. Songs like “Body Ache” and “Tik Tik Boom,” which is not a Hives cover like I had hoped, are really just generic pop songs. The album’s midpoint sags lyrically, as Britney gives way to musical progressions that are foreign to her, instead of following through with the concept.

Musically, there is a lot on the album. The more basic nature of the opening songs gives way to moments that flirt with EDM, until the will.i.am collaboration “It Should Be Easy” dives right into it, in a dubstep rhythm that would make Skrillex proud. Spears definitely experiments around with the music of today. There are moments of heavy electro freakouts and booming dance beats, as well as her more familiar sound.

Britney still sounds as good as ever. Her voice is still strong, and still has that slight touch of snarky ego. Even on a moody album, she sounds like she’s having fun. And ultimately, that’s what makes the album succeed. Britney is doing a slight transformation, necessary with the times. Although it’s a little awkward and alienating, she knows exactly what she’s doing. The concept doesn’t always hold and the songs are somewhat inconsistent, but you want her to succeed. You spend the album rooting for her, because few stars ever have such a comeback. Give “Britney Jean” the benefit of the doubt, because it’s Britney, bitch.

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