Britney Spears delivered one of the finest albums of her career in 2011 with Femme Fatale but sadly the record massively underperformed commercially. Despite having a number one hit stateside with lead single Hold It Against Me, the album didn’t sell anywhere near the amount Spears normally sells. It’s not really clear why the record didn’t resonate but Spears still toured off the back of it and remained one of pop’s favourite artists. Two and a half years on from that album and Spears is back with a record she’s labelled her ‘most personal’ to date, Britney Jean.
One of the problems with setting expectations before you release a record is that disappointment hits harder when fans don’t receive the record they’re expecting. You just need to look at Lady Gaga’s recent under-performance to see that hype can be as dangerous as it can be successful. With Britney and will.i.am speaking about Britney Jean ahead of its release, both have suggested the album is more personal and emotional than previous efforts. Well imagine the surprise when Work Bitch was the first single. Team Britney were quick to say the song wasn’t representative of the album but it’s one that Britney herself wanted to release.
Now Britney Jean is in the public arena, it’s painfully obvious that this isn’t the record that anyone was really expecting. This is both a good and a bad thing but as with every Britney album there’s always much to enjoy. In terms of those more personal songs Perfume is the closest you get to emotional and to be honest there’s nothing revelatory in those lyrics despite Sia co-penning them.
On a handful of tracks you can actually hear Spears singing in a different way. Her voice sounds stronger and it isn’t buried under the production as it has been for the past few albums. Album highlight Passenger actually puts Spears’ voice at the centre and even though Perfume isn’t our favourite track Spears does sound pretty great on it. The album opens with the midtempo Alien, co-written and produced by William Orbit, which again finds Spears using her voice in a different way although distorted at points with vocal effects.
Elsewhere on the album Body Ache proves to be a highlight with its chunky EDM beats turning into a club banger, Til It’s Gone sounds like a distant cousin of Femme Fatale’s I Wanna Go, and Don’t Cry ends the album on a vocally strong point as Spears laments the breakdown of a relationship. Spears’ sister Jamie Lynn pops up on the cheesy Chillin’ With You which brings back bad memories of Email My Heart from the …Baby One More Time album.
Britney Jean is a good pop record. Whilst it may not be the record we were expecting, and it does little to inject some real emotion into Spears’ music, the album is one that grows on you with each listen. There are a few tracks we’ll be skipping over (Tik Tik Book featuring T.I. and It Should Be Easy featuring will.i.am) but mostly it’s a solid pop record. After the rather epic (in our opinion) Femme Fatale, Britney Jean is a bit of a comedown. Still Spears knows her way round a great beat but we were eager for her to come back with her Ray of Light.