Alien, the first track on Britney Spears’ eighth album, Britney Jean, hints at a different approach to her usual dance sound.
The song takes a stylistic note from Madonna’s late-‘90s’ Ray of Light period with its spacey and melodic ambiance.
It’s a hopeful gesture, with Spears striving for a futuristic turn of sound with a minimalistic vocal and moody background. Then a backslide begins with the cheapo nightclub bravado of Work Bitch.
The song is the first clue that Spears and her team can’t stay away from clubland and it sounds tired and dated.
Her producer, Will.i.am, should try to keep his finger off the accelerated drumbeat button. This overused effect wrecks several songs and keeps reappearing. It highlights the lack of inspiration that stops the album in its tracks.
This is carried over into the by-now de rigeur “feat.” songs. Podiatry rock, except it don’t rock!
It’s back to Will.i.am with his auto tuned-to-hell voice, who shows how pointless these collaborations are with his lacklustre cameo on It Should Be Easy. Ditto that on Tik Tik Boom feat. T.I.
The one worthy feat. is with Britney’s li’l sis, Jamie Lynn, on Chillin with You, an acoustic-based song about sibling bonding: “When I’m wit ‘choo, I’m chilling/I’m chilling/When I’m wit ‘choo, I’m chilling/I’m chilling – I’m chill.”
That’s a representative snippet of the lyrical content on Britney Jean – nothing deep here.
The songs that give the album some legs are the pared-down ballads.
The third track, Perfume, shows taste and restraint and allows Spears to give a wistful vocal performance that’s poignant and believable. Don’t Cry cops more of the frosty minor key buzz that makes Alien appealing.
Overall, Britney Jean suffers from sounding dated, wallowing in tinny nightclub mixes that get repetitive quickly. It sounds like a big budget with a lack of imagination.
— Dean Gordon-Smith is a Vernon-based musician and columnist who reviews new releases for The Morning Star.