More mature Britney Jean is a mixed blessing of sorts…
Britney Spears⎪ Britney Jean⎪ RCA⎪⎪ US Release Date: December 03, 2013
Let’s just cut right to the chase people! Britney Jean is different from previous Britney Spears albums, period. While Britney Jean still possesses some of the suggestiveness that typically characterizes Britney Spears (“Work B**ch” being a prime candidate), it also seeks a more mature script to convey her deepest emotions. Is Britney Jean always exciting because of this departure? That’s a definite no; it’s no Britney (2001) where we were all shocked and captivated when Ms. Spears presented “I’m A Slave 4 U”. Put into perspective, however, Spears is no longer that spunky teen singing “Oops (I Did It Again)” or even a rebellious, liberated twenty-something. I’m not sure if we’ll see another “Circus”. Sigh, she’s 32 (or will be come December 2). I wouldn’t let mature Britney completely dissuade you – Britney Jean still has it’s moments. It also has its question marks as well.
“Alien” is the first indication that this isn’t quite the same Britney you grew up with – if you were around for the teen-pop invasion of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s that is. The production work is solid (as to be expected), opening with mysterious, building synths and vocal cooing in the background. Eventually, stronger, thudding 808 drums anchor things down. Spears’ lyrical statements are what is more interesting or surprising than the sound itself. “But the stars in the sky / look like home, take me home / and the light in your eyes / lets me know, I’m not alone…,” Spears sings on the refrain. Essentially, Spears deals with loneliness, likening her loneliness to that of being an extraterrestrial, aka “alien” (she’s E.T. perhaps?). However, her loneliness is now a thing of the past because she’s found “her everything”, as Mary J. Blige would put it. Not a bad start.
👍 “Work B**ch” definitely shows more of the risqué, unapologetic Britney Spears… well sort of. Take a closer look at a seemingly ‘shallow’ message from Spears on the chorus: “You want a hot body? You want a Bugatti? / You want a Maserati? You better work b**ch / You want a Lamborghini? Sip martinis? / Look hot in a bikini? / You better work b**ch…now get to work b**ch!” Sure, Spears is using the overt, shock value of today’s generation to her advantage, but she’s also suggesting to attain the things you want in life, specifically the ‘fame’, you’ve gotta work for it. Basically, the double entendre number is all about “work” effort, and no, not the kind on a pole. Additionally, through the adversity, Spears seems to be suggesting to keep working hard (“Hold your head high, fingers to the sky / they gon’ try and try ya, but they can’t deny ya…”). “Work” actually shines brightly due to its superb, danceable production, and a playful, energized Spears.
👍 “Perfume” is a fine contrast to the honest “Work B**ch”, sporting a much less aggressive sound. Even so, Spears is still in serious mode to an extent. She’s struggling with paranoia and jealously throughout the cut, a narrative in which Spears fears her man is cheating (remember on “Alien” he’d eliminated her loneliness). Because of this, Spears sings as follows: “I put on my perfume, yeah I want it all over you / I gotta mark my territory / I’ll never tell, tell on myself, but I hope she smells my perfume…” So basically, she wants to ensure no one gets her man. There it is.
“It Should Be Easy” follows up “Perfume” fairly well, but lacks the same ‘latch’ of the former. will.i.am enters in the picture collaboratively, delivering the chorus: “Baby love / it should be easy / it shouldn’t be complicated / it should be easy / I don’t know how or where else to say it.” Huh? Is this serious will.i.am who usually goes as ‘dumb’ as they come? Yep, yet another ‘thoughtful’ message in regards to how true love feels – ‘easy’ as opposed to ‘labored’. Spears toys with this as she sings “I let you in but don’t you break my heart / don’t you rip me apart” (verse one) and “I’ve got visions boy, I’ve got visions / of me and you happily just livin’ / I know they’re out there, them beautiful men / but you my future baby…” (verse two). Even through Spears’ newfound seriousness, the cut is still futuristic and danceable in the modern pop sensibility.
👍 If “It Should Be Easy” was too tame, “Tik Tik Boom” keeps Queen Britney lively. Hey, there are very few songs that couldn’t be exciting with lyrics like “You got sex drive in your face / let me get up on it, let me get up on it.” Throw in T.I. literally “hitting all the right buttons” on his guest verse (“Right there in my wife beater / she like the way I eat her, beat her, beat her / treat her like an animal somebody call PETA”) as well as a naughty hook from Britney (“better make me tik tik tik tik tik tik boom…”), and it seems Spears is still “A Slave 4 U”. If the ‘ticking time bomb’ wasn’t enough, Britney knows what’s best for you on the equally alluring “Body Ache” (“I know you feel my fire / draw you into my flame / tonight we take it higher / what I got ain’t no game…”). My quibble with “Body Ache” would be that Spears’ thin vocals leave plenty to be desired. Sure, grit is not the expectation, but the performance is a bit too ‘cool’.
The remainder of Britney Jean lacks some of the bite of both the beginning and the standout cuts. “Til It’s Gone” is again prudent, with Spears teaching “You never know what you got ’til it’s gone…” on the chorus. Still, the aforementioned line is the extent of the depth of the chorus. How seriously can you take a song still filled with a bag of production tricks (synths, gimmicky vocals, predictable cues, etc.). On “Passenger”, Britney’s vocals on the verse are emotional in effort, but I don’t feel they show her in her best light per se. Even, so, you can see where Spears was going, considering this cut is all about “losing control” of being the “driver” to become the “passenger”. Basically, Spears is letting go of ‘control’ and letting her man / love lead her. For concept, it gets my blessing, but as a song, I wouldn’t call it the ‘second coming.’
“Chillin’ With You” seems like Spears’s lighthearted approach to contemporary R&B utilizing acoustic guitars and harder drum programming – two unlike things. The end of each chorus has a more hip-hop oriented sound, contrasting the rest of the song itself. True to its title, “Chillin’ With You” is indeed incredibly chill, though I’m not sure how ‘important’ it is to Spears’ musical legacy or even Britney Jean itself. She gets the assist from sister Jamie Lynn Spears here. “Don’t Cry” closes the album, but sorta sits never catching fire. Sure, B is once more emotional touching on the real aspects of life as opposed to youthful sexual endeavors (“This is going to be our last goodbye / our love is gone but I’ll survive / hide my tears and dry my eyes…”), but she’s also a bit less exciting in the process. I would never associate Britney with ballads because I don’t think her voice is best suited for that regardless of the fact she’s had a few that’ve worked in the past. I’m not sold on “Don’t Cry” though.
So Britney Jean, what does Brent think of thee? A mixed blessing of sorts. I appreciate the maturity, and I believe that some of Britney’s fans that progress alongside her will also appreciate this more grown-up Britney who is not ‘young’ anymore (contextually). On the other hand, there is so much truth and maturity, it sometimes causes Britney Jean to lack to the luster of what Britney Spears has been known to be. Sure, she gets in a “Work B**ch” to balance out fun and real life, but the album sags some towards the end, something big given it’s tight 36 minute duration in standard form. Good, not her best; the post-twenty-something album.
“Work B**ch”; “Perfume”; “Tik Tik Boom”; “Body Ache”