Britney Spears returns to the pop music scene with Femme Fatale, her seventh studio album. Since it’s been three years since her last release, Circus, it could be said that this is a comeback, but Spears has “come back” more times than Shirley McClaine. Over the past 12 years since her debut, Spears has perhaps dealt with more personal setbacks than any other of the current pop music icons. (No, I’m not counting Lindsay.) However, her albums always hit big and her fanbase is unswayed. Femme Fatale is more proof of Britney’s staying power, even if it’s not proof of any artistic identity.
NOTE: This review was made using the “Deluxe Edition” of the album. And also Auto-Tune.
Over the course of 16 songs (12 on the standard version), Britney shows us exactly why she’s lasted as long as she has: she surrounds herself with some of the best producers in the business. Britney is only as good as her collaborators. She doesn’t have enough individuality within her music to do so otherwise. Unlike other pop singers like Christina Aguilera or Katy Perry, Britney rarely makes contributions to her own songs, and she’s the polar opposite of singers like Lady Gaga or Utada Hikaru who control virtually every aspect of the process. This makes Britney a kind of vessel waiting to be filled, which isn’t always a bad thing.
The entirety of Femme Fatale is exquisitely produced. From a purely technical aspect, the music is very close to flawless, if always leaning to the overproduced side of things. In fact, I found a great deal of pleasure in listening to the album on headphones just to hear all the intricacies of the sound bed (but then again, I totally geek out on stereo fields). Yes, Britney is often Auto-Tuned to death, but it works with the music, making everything seem like a virtual idol out of Japan, almost transhuman. The vocal production is straight out of 80s new wave radio, the synths visiting from 90s clubland, and the combination works quite well.
The writing of the song itself—those pesky chords and words—is extremely hit-and-miss, though. The melodies are usually quite catchy, but the lyrics accompanying them are often, how do you say…ah, yes…supremely idiotic. Like, “gotta get down on Friday” stupid. “Oh, yeah, your body looks so sick, I think I caught the flu” is one of the eye-rollers on “(Drop Dead) Beautiful.” The entirety of “Big Fat Bass,” written by will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas, relies entirely on an entendre that barely qualifies as a single. “The bass is getting bigger.” Oh, the big fat bass is getting bigger? Gee. WhatEVER could she be talking about?
Just the same, “Big Fat Bass” is one of the album’s big fat highlights. While it’s a bit too long (it’s the only song over four minutes and could easily have 45 seconds cut out), it’s an earworm of the highest order. Like much of the album, will.i.am uses the best parts of European dance/pop to make the song instantly infectious. Similarly, the opening track “Till The World Ends” (co-written by Ke$ha) is a propulsive, sweeping slice of Eurodance perfection and would have been a much better choice for a lead single than the schizophrenic “Hold It Against Me.” “I Wanna Go” harkens back to the original Britney, back when she could still pull off the “innocent” act, with a playful, winking vocal and flirty lyrics. “Trouble For Me” has breaks that almost sound like Peaches’ brand of sleaze-electro, and bonus track “Up N’ Down” is the best hit dance radio song that never came out in 1997.
Too many times, though, the songwriting fails to truly shine and seems content just to exist as a necessary part of the recoding process. Britney has never been a great vocalist. While she can hold a tune, she sings too much in her head, and will likely never have an “Evita” moment that results in a year of vocal lessons. But that’s okay; Britney’s vocal delivery has become its own signature by now, and her voice is perfectly fine for the music she makes.
However, that also means that’s she’s not able to elevate a song that’s already fairly bad to begin with. “Trip To Your Heart” is an embarrassing bit of twee, sugary lite trance; “How I Roll” sounds dated from almost the opening beats; and while “Gasoline” possesses a gorgeous neo-disco/funk backdrop, the lyrics drain the song of its vitality. Britney’s voice sounds best (and least produced) on “He About To Lose Me”, but the vocal is overpowered by the song’s overwhelming resemblance to Adam Lambert‘s “Whataya Want From Me.” In the same vein, “Criminal” just keeps reminding the listener of Supertramp‘s “The Logical Song,” and the song itself isn’t strong enough to overcome the comparison.
As a whole, Femme Fatale is a solid, if only occasionally remarkable, hour of enjoyable dance/pop. You’re not going to get any intimate singer/music connection, and you’ll never get any deep insight into the human condition, but it’s almost impossible to not want to dance to it. Yep, she did it again, and she’ll probably do it again in a year or two. If the formula works, why change it?
Rating: 6 out of 10 / B-
JOHNNY M is a frequent FBOTU contributor and is a slave for you. <a href="http://www.fanboysoftheuniverse.com/index.php/forums/member/21/" title="