Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Album Review: Britney Spears - Femme Fatale (4/5)

Britney's last album, Circus, saw the pop singer re-establish a presence at the top of the charts; appropriately landing her first #1 single in 9 years (“Womanizer”)—since then, Spears has embarked on a successful world tour and landed two more #1's (“3” and recently “Hold it Against Me”) and now returns with her highly-anticipated seventh album, Femme Fatale; weaning together the enthralling pop of 2003's genre-hopping In the Zone and the thrilling electro-pop of 2007's acclaimed Blackout, plus its own engrossing edge—possibly amongst her best work.

Where Circus sounded a little bland, Femme Fatale ups the production anti—with executive producers Dr. Luke and Max Martin showcasing a solid body of hard-hitting dance numbers, just as striking mid-tempos and doesn't shy away from the more experimental either. The albums opens strong with singles “Till the World Ends” a charging slice of Kesha co-written anthemic pop, followed swiftly by “Hold it Against Me,” drenched with pounding bass lines and heavy underlining sawing club-ready beats—all just a build up to its numbing metallic dub-step breakdown.

It's a great opening to the album, however the real dirty-minded fun begins with third track “Inside Out,” a churning electro-R&B number—undercut with clobbering beats and warbling rigid bleepy electronic undertones—depicting a relationship on the brink of destruction, however gross, animalistic sex that involves turning Spears “inside out” is its saviour. Following is the frothy dance-pop of “I Wanna Go;” choppy vocal effects and penetrating synths, exuding the same joyous aura as Kylie Minogue's “Get Outta My Way” only, I think this is about masturbation (“I wanna show all the dirt, I got running through my mind”)--it makes sense, didn't she just go through a break up on the last track?

Next up is the downbeat “How I Roll,” probably the weirdest song on here, mainly down its layered skeletal production—prominent kinetic handclaps beneath the collage of popping bass, bursts of piano chords and synths—still very clubby—it's unorthodox production and laid back mentality did remind me a little of the more experimental moments on In the Zone and “Freakshow” from Blackout. Urban-tinged “(Dop Dead) Beautiful” is another winner; 808's and great swaggering beats. It features new female rapper Sabi—who's rap really didn't really need to be on here.

Will.I.Am lends his producing talents on “Big Fat Bass” the longest song on here and the most unorthodox—firstly, because it's called “Big Fat Bass” (not even “Big Phat Bass”) and the bass isn't particularly fat, despite both Britney and Will's claims of (“it's getting bigger, the bass is getting bigger”), but in spite of this, along with “Roll,” is the most invigorating a Britney track has sounded in awhile—the production on here is flawless—layered soundcapes, synths, pounding bass lines and piano chords and then heavier frantic beats towards its mid-section.

Downbeat “Trip to Your Heart,” is appropriately trancey; distorted vocal, clubby beats beneath a spacey dream-like overtone. It's a sound that's been done the last two albums, in the form of “Unusual You” on Circus and “Heaven on Earth” on Blackout—however still feels at home on here. Guitar-strung “Gasoline” sounds like a little like “Lace and Leather”—it's pretty good—she sounds way more engaged on here. There are moments where things become a little generic, such as the retro-sounding pop of “Seal it with a Kiss,” it dissolves into a dub-step breakdown, only not as captivating as “Hold it Against Me,” and the chorus doesn't hit that hard either. “Trouble for Me” isn't bad—but not a highlight.

Where Circus ended on a sour note on the trite dedication to her kids (“My Baby”), Femme Fatale closes on a particularly strong note with “Criminal;” guitar-backed and distinctive bass lines beneath its guitaric front. It's very Madonna, circa American Life, 2003. While Femme Fatale definitely sounds like one of Britney's strongest album so far—a solid body of dance-pop—the question of how much she was actually involved in making it keeps cropping up. I think, this is her first album not to have any writing credits since her debut. To that I say: it's a flawed argument—how much involvement do today's popular female pop singers have in their work? Rihanna had no writing credits on Loud, why should Britney be penalized? No-one looks back and discredits Elvis Presley for not writing the majority his own material.

Best: I Wanna Go, Inside Out, Hold it Against Me, How I Roll, (Drop Dead) Beautiful, Criminal, Trip to Your Heart


ww_adh said...

You'll be pleased to know that I really am looking forward to this album. I'm ready to like it too. C'mon Brit Brit--impress me!

J.Mensah said...

I hope you like it too. It's gotten 4 stars from Rolling Stone and 5 stars from Digital Spy.