The troubled state of Britney's mind
Others' talent fills void in 'Blackout'
The miracle that is Britney Spears's career continues on its remarkable trajectory with the release next Tuesday of "Blackout." Spears's ascension hasn't amounted to much musically over the course of five albums, but it's been positively iconic by tabloid standards: from Disney princess to teen-pop pinup to dance-floor provocateur to proud nympho to unfit mother. In recent years, thanks to a dearth of music and a wealth of personal travails, Spears has made the sordid transition from artist to celebrity. And she wears it well.
"Blackout" may be Spears's most honest and revealing album yet. There's not much here beyond pulsing beats and digitized moans, and they're a brilliant mirror of a woman who by all accounts has checked out of life beyond late nights and lattes.
"It's Britney, bitch" are the first words out of Spears's mouth on the lead track and first single, "Gimme More." (Is she talking to me? Was it something I said?) The song - which dropped from No. 6 to No. 13 on this week's Billboard Hot 100 and is No. 7 among digital downloads on iTunes - is a rough, catchy dance track about hot sex, as are most of the others. There are two exceptions: "Piece of Me" is pure autobiography, ghostwritten, of course, a stiff little slab of techno over which Spears skewers her media image ("I'm Mrs-Oh-My-God-That-Britney's-Shameless") in her best blank robot: manipulated, perfect, unreal. "I filled up my garage for you," she coos with regret on "Why Should I Be Sad," the K-Fed kiss-off composed by Pharrell Williams.
Spears gets a pair of songwriting credits here, down from nine on her last album, 2003's "In the Zone." Her name is the last on a list of six who created funky, minimalist "Freakshow"; she also contributed to the sassy come-on "Ooh Ooh Baby" (I'm guessing she helped out with lyrics).
Spears's main job is to show up and sing into the machine that will fix her pitch, which means that as listening experiences, her discs are as good as her hired hands. This time out she has tapped Timbaland protege Danja, newcomer Freesch, and her "Toxic" collaborators Bloodshy & Avant to supply futuristic grooves that span numbing club filler ("Break the Ice"), surprisingly sweet shuffles ("Radar"), and '80s revivalism ("Heaven on Earth").
Gwen Stefani's brand of fashion-forward whimsy hovers over "Toy Soldier," which is anchored by a virtual marching drum and iced with Spears's helium delivery, as well as the T-Pain-penned "Hot as Ice," a bouncy slice of disembodied dance pop. There isn't, happily, a warbled ballad in the bunch.
According to press materials, the album's title refers to "blocking out negativity and embracing life fully." But avid Britney watchers will be forgiven for assuming that "Blackout" refers to getting wasted - too wasted to prepare for your big comeback on the MTV Video Music Awards, or take care of your kids, or put on underwear. The music sounds good. Britney Spears just doesn't get credit for it.