A lot has changed since November 2003, when Britney Spears last released an album of all new material. When “In the Zone” came out, Spears was still at the top of her game: hot magazine cover (“Rolling Stone”), hot single (“Toxic”), hot friends (Madonna).
Since then, though, the star of America’s First Pop Princess has fallen with alarming speed. Britney has pushed the boundaries of traditional scandalous behavior in her long and tortured descent. In addition to the more typical forms of celebrity meltdown (two failed marriages, rehab), Britney has reinvented the wheel (shaved head, paparazzi crotch shot). There is nothing that seems to get a celebrity blogger more turned on these days than an unflattering picture of Brit, which is perhaps why such shots seem to be as prevalent on the Internet as LOLcatz.
America likes to build up its superstars, but there is absolutely nothing we like more than watching them fall.
This is why listening to Brit’s fourth studio album — “Blackout” — is such a shocking experience. It’s good. Like really good. Good in a “dancing with friends at three in the morning” way. Good in a “turn it up in the car and roll down the windows” way. Good in a “the mere desire to listen to this album will actually get my ass to the gym” way.
Spears — or her handlers — have crafted twelve delectable dance songs here. There is not one sugary ballad (no “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman” to be found) nor a song that falls particularly flat (though I doubt languid album-closer “Why Should I Be Sad” is going to get anyone’s pulse racing). She may not be able to win custody of her kids or properly apply makeup, but dammit, she knows how to concoct a hit.
The album leaps out of the gate with four rollicking pop songs that fit right into the Timbaland-inspired musical landscape of the moment. “Gimme More,” which Spears famously “performed” at September’s MTV Video Music Awards, is a bouncy four-minute-long dance-pop orgasm with an instantly catchy call-and-response chorus. In addition, “Radar” (which sounds like the love child of Gwen Stefani’s “The Sweet Escape” and Justin Timberlake’s “SexyBack”) and “Break the Ice” (which calls to mind “The Way I Are” and could very well be the album’s biggest hit) both center on Brit’s favorite pastimes: going out, strutting her stuff and finding hot guys.
Though most of the songs are about getting some, she does find time to get confessional on the album, thank god.
On rumored second single “Piece of Me,” Spears addresses the haters, cooing “you want a piece of me” throughout the jaunty chorus. She refers to her own “bad media karma” and goes on to mockingly pout “I’m Mrs. oh my God that Britney’s shameless” and “I’m Mrs. she’s too big now she’s too thin.” Yet the raw and heavy synthesized beats in the song actually serve to diffuse her apparent skewering of the media’s portrayal of her.
And in “Why Should I Be Sad” she discusses her high-profile breakup with the one, the only, the Kevin Federline. “My friends said you would play, but I just said they’re crazy,” she laments. (I wish I had friends like Britney’s to advise me on relationships — they are clearly quite insightful.) Spears goes on to get pretty vindictive: “I sent you to Vegas / With a pocket full of paper / and with no ultimatums on you / I thought what could separate us / But it just seemed that Vegas / Only brought the playa out of you.” This is some heartbreaking stuff.
Though almost all of the songs on “Blackout” are winners (in addition to the excellent opening four, “Hot as Ice” and “Ooh Ooh Baby” are standouts), the album is not without its weak spots. The lyrics on the wonderfully-titled potential stripper anthem “Get Naked (I’ve Got a Plan)” are downright laughable, as the chorus consists of her demanding “get naked” and “take it off” over and over and over again. And the generic “Heaven on Earth” and “Freakshow” both sound like Ciara/Gwen Stefani/Fergie rejects.
So, while Britney Spears may very well be a terrible mother, a dreadful role model for young girls and the definition of “train wreck,” she’s still got it when it comes to making a stellar dance album.
And who were we to doubt her? After all: she’s Britney, bitch.