Poor old Britney Spears hasnt exactly had a good time of it lately, what with her recent lackluster MTV performance and dubious appearances all over the tabloids. Blackout
, her fifth studio album, is being touted as a bit of a comeback album, the title allegedly alluding to how she is "blacking out" all negative media coverage and focusing on getting back to form. Backed by an array of superstar beatmakers--Bloodshy & Avant, Pharrell Williams, T-Pain, Danja--Blackout
presents a soundtrack that brims with trashy new-wave nowness. Tunes veer from the highly infectious "Freakshow" and "Toy Soldier" to the unconvincingly lascivious "Get Naked," "Ooh, Ooh Baby", and downright uninspiring ("Radar" and "Hot As Ice")--with some inroads into dirty disco ("Heaven on Earth") along the way. The tunes arent bad, but the brittle, robotic soundtrack does start to feel dated and dull, especially when Britneys vocals are so intensely processed they feel equally starchy and disinterested. Comeback album it may be, but "Blackout" doesnt point towards any clear future for Britney--nor for pop music in general. --Danny McKenna
Since 2003's In The Zone, memories of Britney Spears - the musician - have been fading fast. The spell-binding "Toxic" is now just another ringtone, her sexy, sweaty live shows are locked in the video archives and names like Rihanna, Shakira and Beyonce all roll off the tongue before that of the former pop princess.
Impeccable timing, then, for a comeback album that came out of nowhere. For most of 2007, Britney's return had been nothing but a whisper, then suddenly her record label are shouting from the rooftops! and for good reason.
With the backing of producers Nate 'Danja' Hills, Sean Garrett, Bloodshy & Avant and Pharrell Williams, Blackout hasn't exactly been rushed onto the shelves. Quite the opposite. This is highly detailed electro-pop, so produced it's almost distracting. Much will be said of Britney's processed vocals, and admittedly they grate on "Radar" and "Break The Ice", but they are in keeping with the album as a whole. Hip hop, dance, crunk, RnB and electronica all get tapped up on a record that feels like a relentless party; make of that what you will.
Lyrically, it's hardly challenging. With a wide supporting cast of writers, the same ground often gets covered. Sailing close to the wind on "Get Naked", "Hot As Ice" and "Perfect Lover", Spears goes into lust overdrive. She then tackles critics in "Piece Of Me", before a thinly veiled attack on ex-husband Kevin Federline with the shaky "Why Should I Be Sad". To avoid too much embarrassment, moans, groans and third-person soundbites are drowned out amidst beats, bleeps and computer game glitches that are genuinely exciting.
There's much to love on this action-packed feast of an album. The electric "Gimme More", the frantically addictive "Freakshow" and the spooky-sassy "Get Back" are clear signs that Spears still has star appeal by the barrow-load. If she can successfully co-ordinate this magic live on-stage, fans will soon be in for a treat.
After a year that she'd surely rather forget, Blackout marks a cool and calculated return for Britney. Rather than put her troubles to one side, she and her army of producers have served them up in a raunchy and, crucially, fun record. Its success should distract her doubters for a short while at least giving Britney - once again, the musician - another five minutes of fame. --Tom Young
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