Saturday, April 02, 2011
Album Review: Britney Spears - Femme Fatale (3.5/5)
Does Britney Spears have anything to say? That seems to be the big question hanging over much of her music. She sings a lot, but she never manages to say anything. The beats on Femme Fatale are cutting-edge and polished to perfection by a cadre of today's top pop producers, but when it comes to personality, Spears once again manages to inject very little into the admittedly already crowded mix.
Despite her lack of skills as a songwriter, when she's at least put the effort into co-writing her music, it's resulted in generally better albums, the apex of which was her 2003 set In the Zone, an album for which she co-wrote two-thirds of the tracks. Spears also did a little bit of writing for her last album, Circus (2008). But like her soulless 2007 set Blackout, Femme Fatale is written only by others, further emphasizing it as more a showcase for producer talent than for Spears herself. More often than not her thin, girly voice fades into the background of the mix rather than be supported by it.
But if you're just looking for some glossy pop production, Femme Fatale has it in spades. It is Spears' most dance-floor-ready work yet. "Hold It Against Me" and "Till The World Ends" have already proven their worth on the charts. They are produced by master hit-makers Dr. Luke, Max Martin (a Spears collaborator going all the way back to ...Baby One More Time) and Billboard, a new voice from Canada that has worked with Robyn and Ke$ha. These producers also helmed "Inside Out," a less propulsive but also enjoyable number that pushes out rolls of jittering, synth based melodies that wash over like waves in a digital ocean.
Martin teams up with Shellback for two of my favorite tracks. "I Wanna Go" is another dance floor stomper that's basically about nothing--Britney just wanting to dance herself into an orgasmic frenzy--but she delivers her line "shame on me to need release uncontrollably" in a manner to elicit at least a little smile. "Criminal" is the album's sharpest departure. It's the only song that approaches a slower pace. Lyrically, it's close to a story song, one in which the singer can't help but love a guy she knows is wrong for her. Its mix of acoustic guitar with electronic synths and beats recalls Madonna's Music, and its middle section flute solo is the most unexpected musical element on the album.
"How I Roll" is an interesting song. It's quite beat heavy and mostly minimalist, with a chant-like quality that serves to showcase the keyboard-driven choruses well. It's co-produced by Bloodshy of the Bloodshy & Avant team that has been one of Spears' most successful collaborators ("Toxic," "Piece of Me"). Avant writes but doesn't produce on this album; instead Bloodshy is working with Henrik Jonback and Magnus Lidehäll--all Swedes presumably. Their other contribution, "Trip to My Heart," is a journey that lacks inspiration.
My least favorite tracks are "Beautiful (Drop Dead)," which I find to be pretty tedious, although I do like the hip-hop bridge by newcomer Sabi, who raps in a style that seems obviously inspired by Nicki Minaj, and "Big Fat Bass," Spears' first collaboration with Will.I.Am. It's a match that doesn't prove to a fruitful, as the song just sounds like something Fergie could have done but took a pass on. "Gasoline" has a good chugging beat, but is fueled by petroleum-based metaphors that burn out quickly (he he).
So try as a I might, I just can't give this album 4 stars, although she comes real close. I've come around to enjoy her last album, which is comparatively more interesting and, for her at least, more personal. This album is almost as good and certainly better than Blackout and Britney, as well as her earliest teeny-pop work. However, seven albums in, Britney continues to deliver great songs but has still yet to record a truly great pop album. Many, myself included, keep hoping she has it in her, but with Femme Fatale she's still not there yet.
Best: Hold It Against Me, Till the World Ends, I Wanna Go, Criminal, How I Roll