Britney Spears, 'Britney Jean': Track-By-Track Review
Producers: Will.i.am, William Orbit, David Guetta
Release Date: Dec. 3
On the eve of her 32nd birthday, Britney Spears is at a pleasant point in her career, and has little left to prove in the recording studio, or anywhere else. 2011's "Femme Fatale," a collection of kinetic synth-pop largely helmed by Max Martin and Lukasz "Dr. Luke" Gottwald, was the first album that was effectively removed from the high-profile period of personal struggles that checkered Spears' career in the late 00's, and hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart thanks to pristinely crafted pop songs like "Hold It Against Me" and "Til The World Ends." The flurry of hits from "Femme Fatale" was paired with a relatively controversy-free run for Spears, who put on a successful tour behind "Femme Fatale," became a judge on "The X Factor," helped Will.i.am score a Top 5 hit with "Scream & Shout" and danced with her two sons in the music video for "Ooh La La," a song recorded for "The Smurfs 2" soundtrack. "Britney Jean," her eighth studio effort, was announced concurrently with the singer's two-year-long "Britney Spears: Piece of Me" residency at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas; while the reveal did not exactly make a new album seem incidental, it's been made clear that, new hits or no, the "…Baby One More Time" auteur is going to endure.
Spears has referred to "Britney Jean" as her "most personal record yet," but the pop superstar's latest is more of an experiment than an autobiography. Martin and Dr. Luke are largely gone, and in their stead is executive producer Will.i.am, who contributed "Big Fat Bass" to "Femme Fatale" and whose pop production discography is underrated as a conglomerate (listen to Fergie's "Big Girls Don't Cry," Ke$ha's "Crazy Kids" and Estelle's "American Boy" for further proof). Although Will.i.am takes most of his cues from "Scream & Shout" and concocts elastic dance numbers like the David Guetta-assisted scorcher "Body Ache" and the bleating electronics showcase "Til It's Gone," there's also "Perfume," which admits to some cracks of jealousy in Spears' unflappable exterior, and "Alien," which harnesses William Orbit's contemplative rhythms and lets the superstar muse about where she really belongs. There's a duet between Britney and her sister, Jamie Lynn, that contains one of the strangest post-chorus transitions in recent memory, and while first single "Work Bitch" is a dance track, it's also a dazzlingly weird one, eschewing the sing-along hooks of "Hold It Against Me" for profanity, pogoing tempos and British accents.
Spears' eighth album is a transitional record, just like her third album. But whereas 2001's "Britney" found Spears -- no longer a girl, but not yet a woman -- feeling her way toward adulthood and the candid sexuality of club life, "Britney Jean," her first album released in her thirties, is a subtle shift away from frantic bangers and into more forthright songwriting. Perhaps that displacement will steer Spears toward the pop-rock world: "Passenger," "Britney Jean's" second-half standout, finds the singer ruminating on romantic trust while delivering an empowering vocal performance over Diplo's guitar-driven production. It's a song that requires a mature point of view, and might just be a harbinger of what's to come.
Which songs on "Britney Jean" are stand-outs? Check out Billboard's track-by-track review of Britney Spears' latest full-length.
1. Alien - William Orbit's co-production on the album opener is austere but isolating, as Spears travels across the cosmos to find some comfort in a barren universe. "The stars in the sky/Look like home, take me home," she coos before concluding that she is, thankfully, no longer alone.
2. Work Bitch
The effervescent "Work Bitch" allows Spears to assume the identity of a headmistress who recognizes that work (bitch) is the best way to secure both a hot body and a Bugatti. The bass drop at the 45-second mark is still worthy of provoking one to call the police, the governor, and his or her local radio station on its own.
Sia's co-writing work is evident on this mid-tempo ballad, in which Spears cops to some insecurities and attempts to "mark my territory" with some well-sprayed perfume. The production sashays forward as Spears nicely alternates between breathy confessionals and forceful declarations of doubt.
4. It Should Be Easy feat. Will.i.am - "You bring me zen, yes, you bring me zen/You make me feel like a million, billion," Spears' robotized voice states in this return to the dance floor. David Guetta, Giorgio Tuinfort, Nicky Romero, Marcus van Wattum and Will.i.am all had a hand in this surprisingly heartfelt duet, on which synth fireballs bookend the tiptoeing keyboard line.
5. Tik Tik Boom feat. T.I. - Spears is trapped in a "Tron"-like environment but remains extremely direct in her sexual prowess on "Tik Tik Boom." As complex beats crawl like spiders across the track, T.I. sounds raw and wicked atop the neon glow of the production.
6. Body Ache - Another Guetta/Will.i.am hydra that sounds massive from the jump. The dense ping-pong snaps from "Scream & Shout" multiply until the arrangement becomes too busy, but the production finally simplifies itself for Spears' chorus cry, "I want to dance till my body ache/Show you how I want ya" chorus. "Body Ache" never really explodes, but at least it simmers.
7. Til It's Gone - The red herring piano intro morphs into one of the most intense dance tracks of Spears' career, with racing electronics in the vein of Daft Punk's "Contact" and a final minute full of hold-up-your-lighter moments. The track powers down before surging back to life under Spears' command.
8. Passenger - Co-written by Katy Perry and produced by Diplo, "Passenger" noodles around with some EDM impulses before imploding into brooding pop-rock. Spears does her part by delivering resonant melismas and lyrics about giving your inhibitions over to another: "I'll let you the lead the way now, cuz I want you to take the wheel/I've never been a passenger/Though, I never knew how good it would feel," she confesses. Vulnerable and vibrant.
9. Chillin' With You feat. Jamie Lynn - "I drank some red wine and now I'm walking on the sky…," Spears sings, grasping at happiness over lush synth-pop before her younger sis steps onto the scene. Jamie Lynn offers a twangy yang to Brit's yin, but "Chillin' With You" is a mishmash of ideas that cannot stylize its odd arrangement.
10. Don't Cry - The Spaghetti Western-esque whistle opening segues into a crackling break-up coda, as Spears offers her "last goodbye" while the percussion stomps the album to a close. "Don't Cry" almost plays out like a winking "To Be Continued…" card, closing out the standard edition of "Britney Jean" on a speculative note.