Besides maybe her predecessor Madonna-who similarly enjoyed the throne as the queen of pop-Britney Spears has gone through more career reincarnations than just about any other artist. From bubblegum pop princess to sexy vixen, mental breakdown Britney to Las Vegas performer, Spears’ career has taken some unusual turns. Spears tells the press that a Vegas show was always her dream, but for the 32-year-old pop star, it’s less about the show and more about the curtain. Unlike the Wizard of Oz, though, pulling away this curtain won’t reveal a man with no exceptional talent, but rather a performer barely held together.
The songs on Spears’s new album Britney Jean seem to act as a revision to her entire career, with many songs borrowing both sonically and lyrically from the different periods of her development. The pop princess era of Spears’ career was probably her best, along with perhaps that of the sexy vixen.The best songs on the album borrow from these eras. The third song on the album, “Perfume,” is the first of the album to borrow from the old era that made Spears’ …Baby One More Time so popular among millennials growing up, including yours truly. The song details a woman, as voiced by Spears, who knows that her boyfriend is cheating on her-she wants the other woman to smell her scent on him. “I’m gonna mark my territory,” she sings. The song refreshingly begins with a sweet piano melody, paired with vocals from Spears’ lower range, which is undoubtedly her most youthful register. The song is not only emotionally resonant, but it is also danceable, sampling a bass drop from Spears’ 2001 song “Don’t Let Me Be the Last to Know.”
The second song on the album that is reminiscent of the golden era of Spears is “Passenger.” The beat is simple, backed up by an eighth note guitar, with an Indian-sitar feel in the beginning, matched with ’80s style Van Halen synths. The lyrics are also some of the album’s most profound. Meanwhile, Spears lets go, becoming a passenger, allowing the music to drive-her voice reflects this, as she again uses her lower register and really lets go.
Next comes the sexy pop vixen era of Spears’ career. Sadly, there’s only one take from this era. “Tik, Tik Boom” comes with a staccato chorus, and it includes a smooth verse from T.I.-the track begs for an extended play remix.
Third is mental breakdown Britney. This epoch, occurring mostly in 2007, featured Britney taking a green umbrella to the hood of a car, as well as infamously shaving her head-not to mention some of Spears’ worst music and performances. Britney Jean includes too many songs which emulate, hopefully unintentionally, this era. From the atrocious “It Should Be Easy,” featuring Will.i.am-who produced the equally atrocious “Scream and Shout” with Britney in 2012-to the laughable, albeit danceable, first single, “Work Bitch,” the album has too many throwaways.
But the worst of all is “Chilling With You,” which features Spears’ little sister, former Zoey 101 star Jamie Lynn Spears.The problem with the song is not only its ridiculous lyrics (“I sang so loud that I smiled / I made it worth my while / I drank some white wine / Now I’m walking on the sky”), but also the fact that it cannot decide what it wants to be. In the beginning, it is a guitar pop ballad, and then in the chorus it tries to be awkwardly danceable. It just does not work. The one surprise from the song is Jamie Lynn’s voice, which has a nicer, stronger tone than that of her superstar sister.
The final era of Britney’s career-let’s just call it the wicked witch of Vegas era-has included some pretty good songs, despite the fact that it seemed Britney was always white-knuckling it. In Britney Jean, “Alien” stays true to this era: it is a slick electronic pop song for a new millennium.
With some songs, Britney Jean shows us the ghosts of Britney past-a simpler time that produced some of Spears’ best material. But these moments are few and far between, and many of the songs seem as removed as the pop star’s confused appearance.