The Good: Short (listener does not suffer long)
The Bad: Not a memorable tune in the bunch, Overproduced, Derivative of other artists, Short, Repetitive
The Basics: Britney Spears released Blackout and it is such bland bass-and-keyboard-driven pop that it is utterly unmemorable.
Unlike most of the U.S., I don't truly care for the whole Blonde Revolution where whatever thin blonde jailbait dangles herself in front of the cameras on MTV becomes the next big celebrity. It has been a long time since Britney Spears was considered wholesome and hearing she was releasing a new Greatest Hits album, I realized that I have pretty much been out of listening to mainstream pop music where she might have released any songs since around the time she released My Prerogative, her first "best of" album. Indeed, as a serious student of all sorts of music, it does not surprise me that I have only reviewed her single of ". . . Baby One More Time" (here!) and her album Britney (here!). So, today, I got my hands on Blackout to listen to what Ms./Mrs./Who Knows Anymore Spears was producing since I last heard her. Wow, talk about falling far from one's position!
Britney Spears rose to prominence and fame on generic pop-songs that were suggestive, but energetic and perversely wholesome. On "Blackout," she presents songs that are monotonously sexual in nature with dance beats that pound out and vocals that are so overproduced that it would take a magician to find where Spears' actual voice is. Every song sounds like it was produced by the team that did Nelly Furtado's album Loose and this is a particularly banal outing as far as the music goes. Of course, if the liner notes, which feature photographs of Britney Spears and a pole (for pole dancing, not any other type of pole), her in kinky outfits and suggestively taking on a priest in a confessional, are any indication, this album is only intended to sell the sexed up image of Britney Spears without actually needing the music.
With only a dozen tracks, clocking out at 43:37, Britney Spears trades in her blonde hair and hints of talent for a black hair dyejob and a monotonous role spewing the sexually-charged lyrics she is given on Blackout. The album is only marginally the work of Britney Spears, so it is hard to blame her too much. She is only credited with co-writing two of the songs (neither of which are stellar in any way) and she does not play a single instrument on the album (not that there are many actual instruments on this album). But for a performer who puts so much faith in her presentation, what is most alarming is that Britney Spears does not receive so much as a co-producer's credit on any song. This is very much a studio-assembled monstrosity and it is very easy to overlook Spears as an artist because she is not one. She is largely performing like a corporate puppet on Blackout.
Musically, the album is a creation of several different producers who creating backing instrumental sounds on mixing boards. None of the songs have much other than programmed instruments and as such, this is a very blase presentation of keyboards, bass and programmed percussion. The only song that seems to have a real tune is "Ooh Ooh Baby" and it is clearly derivative of "Rock'N'Roll 1 2 3." The song that precedes it, "Hot As Ice" is pure bubblegum pop with a singsong presentation that is easily dancable, but entirely unmemorable after it is done playing. Indeed, my latest listen to that song ended two minutes ago and I can only hum the refrain and I'm not even sure I get it right!
The sound of the album is monotonously throbbing. This is dance-pop music that evokes images of clubs filled with hot sweaty late-teens and early-twentysomethings. The predilection toward lyrics consumed with either sex or Britney Spears (singing about being Britney Spear) makes one imagine a strobelight-filled club with loud music, jerks dateraping in the hallways and losers filming it all for broadcast on YouTube minutes later. In other words, this is very much a product of the time, a product of adults trying to figure out what will get young people to buy and an immature view about relationships that leaves adults more nauseated than anything by the lyrics on the album.
As for the vocals, Britney Spears may be able to sing . . . but it is not evident on Blackout. For sure, on "Why Should I Be Sad," the closest the album comes to a ballad, Spears' voice comes through when she sings softly and kittenish. The rest of the album is so overproduced with reverb and other vocal production elements that her voice blends with the keyboards more often than not. There is nothing distinctive or incredible about the vocals and most of the lyrics (not worth hearing anyway) are obscured by production elements.
Opening with the shamelessly spreadlegged "Gimme More," Blackout is a musically raunchy romp through the life of Britney Spears . . . or who she is willing to be portrayed as. When not being obsessed with sex, Britney Spears sings about being Britney Spears. There is no subtlety when she sings "I'm Miss American Dream since I was 17 . . . They're still gonna put pictures of my derriere in the magazine . . . I'm Miss bad media karma / Another day another drama . . . I'm Mrs. Lifestyles of the rich and famous / (You want a piece of me) / 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" ("Piece Of Me"). Singing about the controversy that surrounds one is about as original as . . . well, any song by Eminem. One is almost surprised that Matthers was not a co-writer of that song!
In addition to being utterly repetitive ("Radar" is so inane that the only thing breaks through the lyrical monotony is a tune that comes close to sounding like an OutKast single), the songs on Breakout are mundanely sexual in a way that exhibitionist sex usually is. So, while those who initially heard Britney Spears and liked her wholesome persona might be offended when she relays the lines "Make it a / Freakshow Freakshow / We can give em a / Peepshow peepshow / Don't stop it let it flow / Let your inhibitions go / It's a crazy night / Let's Make a make a freakshow" ("Freakshow") the song is utterly unmemorable because so many of the other songs are blandly sexual. Yes, one supposes brunette or blonde, Spears expects all her listeners will salivate at the suggestion that she is sexually active. After one accepts that she is, her presentation of what sex is becomes entirely banal.
With songs like "Get Naked (I Got A Plan)" and "Heaven On Earth," it is hard to pick what might actually be worthwhile on this album. But then there's "Hot As Ice," a purely ridiculous pop song that has "yeah" as so many of the principle lyrics that it is impossible to take seriously. Spears takes no credit for lyrics like "I'm just a girl with the ability to drive a man crazy . . .Make him call me mama . . . Make him my new baby. . .New and improved I'm saying thank you very much / Living legend / You can look but don't touch / 'Cause I'm / Cold as fire, baby / Hot as ice / If you've ever been to heaven, / This is twice as nice" ("Hot As Ice") and what is truly astonishing is that she found three writers who would! The song is so ridiculous that it is almost impossible to view it as anything other than harmless, dumb, overproduced pop music with no real lasting value.
And that is where I leave Blackout, a Britney Spears album that may or may not have songs on her new compilation (I'm at a loss for which tracks she might have picked from this outing). The album is dated pop from a pop princess whose shark is so far behind her one couldn't even guess where she jumped.
The best track is "Hot As Ice" and that is mostly for the ease of mocking it. There are no superlatively bad tracks because the album is so homogeneously bad.
For other former Artist Of The Month artists I studied, please check out my reviews of:
Any Day Now - Joan Baez
@#%&*! Smilers - Aimee Mann
50 Greatest Hits - Reba McEntire
Want to see how this album stacks up against others? Check out my index page organized by rating by clicking here!
© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.