Saturday, June 25, 2011

Artist At The Shark: You Can Almost Hear The Boa Constricting On Britney

The Good: Generally good message
The Bad: Terrible lyrics, Music, Execution of themes
The Basics: At the pinnacle of the Blonde Revolution came Britney, a surprisingly personal pop-dance album that almost becomes worthwhile enough to like.

For all of my critiques of what I call the Blonde Revolution - the rise of young, blonde pop stars at the turn of the millennium - I realized I had never listened to a whole album by the reigning queen of the Revolution, Britney Spears. I had reviewed the single of “Baby One More Time . . .” (here!) and was more or less baffled. I suppose, given her fast descent from pop-star to punchline, reviewing her album Britney to start off with her as an Artist Of The Month might be pointless, but here it goes.

Over twelve tracks, Britney Spears sings about coming of age on Britney. In fact, what keeps it from being an utterly unredeemable album is that unlike the usual morass of love and love lost ballads, Britney focuses almost completely on the experience of growing up and being a pop star. That is to say many of the tracks - the beginning of "Slave 4 U," "Overprotected," "Lonely," "I'm Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman," and on - are all about growing up, the awkward teen years. It's a subject that too infrequently gets attention in pop music. It's worthwhile at the least.

So, for example, on "Overprotected," a shout out against the sheltered life the singer feels she had been living, she cries out for the right to experience with lines like, "I need to make mistakes just to learn who I am / And I don't want to be so damn protected." This is actually worthwhile in terms of message. For all the Image Britney Spears was made into, this is a cry from her to just let her be and grow. That's pretty cool. Even the shark-jumping "Slave 4 U" - the single Spears used to introduce "Britney" to the world at an award show with a boa constrictor around her as she descended the stage - declares "I know I may be young / But I've got feelings too / And I need to do what / I feel like doing" before descending into pure pop dance song garbage.

So, I will give credit where credit is due and Britney is a snapshot of a young woman on the cusp of womanhood trying to find herself. That's respectable. And it feels like an album that is saying something personal, something that is defining Britney Spears, which eponymous albums ought to do.

The problem, largely, then becomes where Spears diverges from the concept of her album or expresses it with lyrics that are terribly lame or music whose sole purpose seems to be to evoke dancing. As mentioned, "Slave 4 U" quickly becomes a sugary dance-pop song losing all substance of self in favor of lyrics and a bassline that seem designed to compel one to tap their toes. "Overprotected" sounds like it could be the same background as "Oops I Did It Again" and the less said about "Boys" the better.

The whole experience is encapsulated on two truly terrible tracks. Joan Jett might not yet be dead, but she's spinning in her grave for Spears's rendition of "I Love Rock And Roll." The group backing vocals gut the personality of the song and Spears's nasal vocals on the song are just painful to listen to.

The epitome of how brainless and terrible the pop culture embodied by the Blonde Revolution and the overproduced tracks of Britney Spears is "Bombastic Love." This singsong sugar pop track is grating and the lyrics are so canned as to cause anyone over fifteen physical pain to hear Spears whine out the lines. Such lyrical gems as "Bombastic love, so fantastic where I'm / Completely yours and you are mine / And it's gonna be exactly like in a movie / Where we fall in love for the first time . . ." Reading the lyrics does not do justice to the fragmented, broken syllable way Spears sings the lines.

Britney Spears continues to not play any instruments on Britney, instead relying on producers to lay down tracks that she may sing to. Then, of course, they produce her voice over and over to create a sound that makes the listener wonder if it's even possible there is any of her actual voice in the mix. The sole exception is the ballad that embodies the best of the album "I'm Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman," which insinuates Britney might well have vocal talent.

But sadly, every other track is so produced as to bugger the listener with the question of whether or not there is a human behind the album as opposed to a thousand remixing computers. Sadly, this seems to be the direction music is heading in; sound without soul. Britney might define Spears, but if it does, it hints at a person or persona devoid of substance beyond a few well-conceived lines. All sound, hints of substance, a shadow; ultimately that's what the Blonde Revolution will create or collapse upon.

The best track is "I'm Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman," and the worst is "Bombastic Love."

For other, former, Artist Of The Month reviews, please check out:
Album 1700 - Peter, Paul And Mary
@#%&*! Smilers - Aimee Mann
50 Greatest Hits - Reba McEntire


For other music reviews, click here to visit my organized listing of them!

© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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