The Good: Generally thorough, Good concept, Some decent rarities
The Bad: Bulky, Entirely incomplete
The Basics: Bulky, expensive, incomplete and illustrating a lack of creative depth, the boxed set The Singles Collection illustrates the degeneration of the music of Britney Spears.
Just when I thought I couldn't hate Britney Spears more, I have to go through and listen to twenty-nine discs of her works! This is why people go crazy around the holidays. So, too, is the idea of shelling out anywhere from $75 - $100.00 for the Britney Spears The Singles Collection Boxed set. Not to be confused with the two albums which bear the same name by Britney Spears (see links below), the boxed set The Singles Collection is a massive collection of c.d. singles which is supposed to be the definitive Britney Spears singles collection.
Unfortunately, this is not.
Just as I don't do track by track reviews as a review, I'm not going to discuss this boxed set single by single. But what The Singles Collection shows adequately is how very lazy the career of Britney Spears has become. While earliest singles include obscure b-sides, the later ones simply have remixes of the a-side single. This boxed set is just riddled with problems, though, from the content to the style. And as much as I want to bash Britney Spears's works on musical principle, the gripes I have with The Singles Collection are legitimate and those who actually love the various and sundry works of Spears are likely to be severely disappointed, even if they won't openly admit it.
For those unfamiliar with the works of Britney Spears, how did you get to a computer and figure out how to work it so quickly, after living under a rock for the last decade? Take two, for those unsure of what to expect when listening to the music of Britney Spears, this collection of singles is actually a great way to understand the pop diva. Most of Spears’ works are dance-pop numbers with a few very traditional-sounding pop ballads. Out of the twenty-nine c.d.s in this set (the 30th disc is a DVD), twenty-one of the recognizable tracks (a-sides) are pop-dance numbers, including the Spears cover of “I Love Rock ’N’ Roll.” The others tend to be very simple, direct and earnest pop ballads where Britney Spears sings about heartbreak, loneliness and the other pitfalls of fame.
Britney Spears, however, is not a musical artist, nor is she a performer of the enduring caliber of Tina Turner or Celine Dion. Instead, she is a musical performer who has capitalized on the image that was originally branded for her and then slowly transformed the “good girl having fun” into the “vixen.” All the while, she sings music mostly written by other people for her to perform. The thing is, while Britney Spears might have a great voice (which is actually evident on songs like “Sometimes” and “Lucky” – both of which are singles in this collection) more often than not, her vocals are dramatically overproduced. By the time her latest single, "3" comes up in the boxed set, the listener is hearing a vastly more mechanized and produced sound to the vocals. But, to be fair, since her very first single, Britney Spears has been performing below her potential. On “…Baby One More Time,” listeners hear a very nasal version of Britney Spears, which is not at all evident on the b-side of that same single, “Autumn Goodbye.”
Furthermore, Spears does not play any instruments on any of these singles, nor is she credited as a producer. In fact, she is only a co-writer on a handful of the a- and b- sides in this collection. She sings what is put before her for the most part.
So, why I am I so down on this specific collection?
First, those who love the music of Britney Spears are likely to be deceived into believing that this truly is the grail of singles. With twenty-nine singles for every song Spears and Jive Records ever released for radio play (even songs that did not become hit songs, like “Outrageous,” “From The Bottom Of My Broken Heart,” and “Gimme More”), it seems reasonable that this would be the definitive collection. This is reinforced by the first disc, which is the exact single that was released as “…Baby One More Time” (reviewed here!). A-side and b-side are right there in the packaging with the original picture of Spears (as a redhead/very dirty blonde). Listeners might then figure that all of the singles are this way. They, however, are not. So, for example, while “Toxic” (reviewed here!) was a four-track single, the version in this boxed set is only a two-track single and is missing one remix (the other song on the four-track single appears on the actual album In The Zone, so its loss here is inconsequential). Those expecting ALL of the various and sundry remixes by Spears will still have singles to hunt down if they want every remix in existence. This collection of singles re-pressed many of the singles in order to make the homogenous two-track “singles” this boxed set it comprised of.
Second, The Singles Collection illustrates a fundamental degradation in the quality of the works Britney Spears is producing. I'm not referring to the transition from upbeat pop-princess to moody musical soft-core celebrity, but rather in the effort to make the Britney Spears singles actually have value. The early singles have actual b-sides, including some songs that are not on the accompanying albums. The five singles from …Baby One More Time (the album) have the five a-sides, four b-sides and only one remixed a-side (which I do not consider a true b-side because it is essentially the same produced track reproduced by a different producer, usually with only moderate differences). Similarly, with the four singles from Oops . . . I Did It Again, three have true b-sides and only one has a remix as its second track. But from disc fourteen (“Boys”) on, it's all a-track and remixes, save two of the songs. That's fourteen out of sixteen singles where the listener is just hearing the same song twice . . . with only marginal differences. Take, for example, the single for “Radar.” The overproduced dance-pop song is presented in a remix by Bloodshy & Avant (who co-wrote the song) which is even longer, more repetitive and has no new lines, riffs or anything from Britney Spears. In summary, many of the remixes actually lessen the presence of Britney Spears on the disc!
Third, the bonus DVD (disc 30) is particularly anemic. It has two tracks: the music videos for “…Baby One More Time” and “Sometimes,” Spears’ first two singles. This is a huge step down from the thorough DVD set in My Prerogative or even the one that comes with the Deluxe edition of The Singles Collection.
Finally, because I am an environmentalist and always looking out for people's personal spaces, the boxed set of The Singles Collection is a huge waste of space. What is pressed on twenty-nine discs could easily have been condensed down into three (possibly even two) compact discs. This should be, at most, a four-disc set (with the DVD). Instead, Brand Britney realized that if they fleshed this out as a collector's item with all-new packaging and replicated slimcases for each disc, they could charge a lot more. In addition to using resources poorly, this boxed set has a terrible footprint on one's shelf. Those living with a premium of space might well resent the amount of space this takes up, as well as the content.
As a champion of good and great music, the content on these discs is entirely underwhelming and, at best, the music of Britney Spears reaches an objective average for pop-rock music. But this presentation bills itself as being a gift to the fans for supporting the career of Britney Spears by offering a lush look back, but it is executed as a study in lazy (though one gets a lot of exercise switching discs) and self-glorifying. The truest fans of Britney Spears will find no value in this, as they already possess each and every one of the singles inside in their more complete forms and the fans who were waiting for just such a collection get shafted by a product which offers them less than they would have gotten by purchasing the singles all along.
The best a-side is “Oops…I Did It Again” and the best b-side is “I Run Away,” the lowest points are any combination of “Outrageous,” “If You Seek Amy,” and "3."
For other reviews of Britney Spears music, please check out my reviews of:
From The Bottom Of My Broken Heart (single)
Don't Let Me Be The Last To Know (single)
I'm A Slave 4 U (single)
Me Against The Music (single with Madonna)
Gimme More (single)
The Singles Collection
The Singles Collection (2-disc CD/DVD with videos)
For other music reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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