Say what you will about her, but you have to admit that Britney Spears has a talent for making headlines. Sure, the headlines may be about her lack of underwear, child custody problems, pregnant younger sister, or overall bizarre behavior, but she makes headlines regardless.
Lately, her singing career has been at the very bottom of all the headlines. Spears hadn’t released a studio album since 2003 (In The Zone), and hadn’t actually seen any publicity surrounding her music since then, either. After a failed performance at the 2007 VMA’s, Spears released her fifth studio album, Blackout, in October ’07 to very little promotion.
The strange thing is, despite Spears’ image and public downfall, she’s still quite capable of making good pop music. Sure, none of the songs on Blackout are profound, or even extremely well written. Spears’ breathy vocals don’t rival other current hit makers like Amy Winehouse or Alicia Keys. But the album sticks to the formula which works best for Spears- fun pop songs and club worthy dance tracks.
The disc starts off with lead single, Gimme More. The track boasts a pulsating bass line, and begins with computerized vocals, before leading into the actual song. Though the song has absolutely no depth lyrically (the chorus simply consists of the repetition of “Gimme, gimme more, gimme more, gimme, gimme, gimme”…), it’s still a fun and danceable track and a great opener to the album. And I’m not even gonna lie, I definitely have a “It’s Britney, b!tch!” ringer on my cell phone- I couldn’t resist 😉
Spears’ pokes fun of her public persona with Piece of Me. Her vocals are again computerized and the tons of synthesized backing music give the song a sort of futuristic sound which works really well. The upbeat track is another one perfect for the clubs, but the tongue-in-cheek lyrics are also worth a few chuckles (“I’m Miss American Dream since I was 17/Don’t matter if I step on the scene/Or sneak away to the Philippines/They still gon’ put pictures of my derriere in the magazine/…I’m Mrs. ‘Lifestyles of the rich and famous’/I’m Mrs. ‘Oh my God that Britney’s Shameless’/I’m Mrs. ‘Extra! Extra! This just in’/I’m Mrs. ‘She’s too big now she’s too thin’”).
A bit of Tainted Love is sampled for the catchy tune, Radar. Sounding something similar to a Rihanna song, the track has a “hip-pop” feel to it, that yet again, makes it perfect for dancing to. Spears’ vocals are less enhanced this time around, and you actually hear her singing rather than digitized vocals. Hip-hop producers Sean Garrett, Bloodshot, and Avant lend their talents to Toy Solider. Spears’ sings about how she needs a “real man” rather than just another “toy solider”. She almost raps during the verses, which sounds a lot better than you’d expect, and the throbbing drum beat gives the song even more attitude.
Hot As Ice has some of the strangest backing music I’ve ever heard (I’m definitely sure it’s one of the presets on my old Casio keyboard), but is an irresistibly fun and catchy song. Spears’ vocals are so high pitched that its sounded like she’s swallowed some helium before singing, but the technique is actually quite cute rather than annoying. The lyrics, though not exactly awe-inspiring, are fun and full of confidence (“Watch your fingers, boy/You might get burned’/Cause I’m cold as fire baby, hot as ice/If you’ve ever been to heaven, this is twice as nice). Ooh Ooh Baby is another hip-hop type track, and sounds like a mix of (I Got That) Boom Boom and Outrageous (both on In The Zone), but still has a beat worth listening to the song for.
Meanwhile, Perfect Lover, has become one of my favorite songs on the album. The song has a sexy sound to it, and Spears’ vocals are suddenly less breathy, and more sultry, especially during the chorus. Racy lyrics make up most of the song (“You wanna see my body naked/And I bet you like the way I shake it/And I hope that you can take it/You’re the perfect lover/I’m in love with all the things you do/So seductive when your touch me/I can’t get enough of you/…When you come around/Got me so damn high/Can’t come down/Every time you touch me there/You make me feel so hot”). The overtly sexual nature of the song might surprise some fans (or not, given Spears’ recent years in the media), and the track actually seems like something that would be on some of Janet Jackson’s recent albums (particularlyThe Velvet Rope). Still, the song is one of the best on the album.
The album does hit a bit of a slump during the middle. Break The Ice is like a watered down version of Radar, but lacks the catchiness of its predecessor. Heaven On Earth is a fast paced techno song that would fit in perfectly on a DDR game, but is highly forgettable. Spears’ vocals during the chorus are actually quite reminiscent of some of her older work, and the chorus of the song sounds similar to some of the songs on her first albums. Get Naked (I Got A Plan) features a rapper who sounds a lot like ODB, and is another “dirty” club track. The song isn’t actually bad- I’ve never gone as far as skipping it while listening to the album, but it’s definitely not a song I look forward to listening to. Freakshow is a semi-decent dance song, but is far too boring to pay much attention to.
The album comes to a close with the only song that has any sort of depth to it, Why Should I Be Sad?. The song is obviously autobiographical, though, like the rest of the album, Spears didn’t write the lyrics (credit goes to Pharrell who also produced the track). The verses are spent with Spears lamenting her failed marriage to Kevin Federline (“I sent you to Vegas/With a pocket full of paper/And with no ultimatums on you/I thought, what could separate us/But it just seemed that Vegas/Only brought the playa out of you/Lavish homes and fancy cars/Even got the drop Ferrari/Filled up our garage for you/Made your choice with all the teams/People, Limos, Magazines/Tell me who’d I do that for? Who?”) while the chorus plays as an anthem for getting over the divorce and on with her life (“Why should I be sad, heaven knows/From the stupid freakin’ things that you do (stupid freakin’ things)/Or should I get back or sad, who knows/Just take it all as a sign that we’re through/Goodbye!/Its time for me to move along”). The music sounds like the typical Neptunes-produced track- thumping beat, flowing verses/bridges, and a catchy chorus. The song is a great end to the album, and one of my favorites on the disc.
Despite Blackout getting tons of critical acclaim, it arrived in the midst of a bunch of controversy surrounding Spears’ personal life and received little to almost no attention. The album is however, one of Spears’ best to date, and it’s good to know that even though her public image is unraveling day by day, she can fall back on making upstanding pop music. Hopefully Britney Spears will get her act together soon, and go back to making headlines where it really matters- in the music scene.
1. Gimme More
2. Piece Of Me
4. Break the Ice
5. Heaven On Earth
6. Get Naked (I Got a Plan)
8. Toy Soldier
9. Hot As Ice
10. Ooh Ooh Baby
11. Perfect Lover
12. Why Should I Be Sad