Review: Britney Spears’ “Blackout”

Oct 30, 2007 3:46pm

For many of us, Britney Spears is the ultimate symbol for everything that’s wrong with the music industry.  She’s made her career peddling factory-spawn gloss with little substance, set up for a dumbed-down audience happy with cookie-cutter idols, void of any genuine musical inspiration.  She’s become more famous for her life being more chaotic than her records.

Some have tried foolishly to compare Britney to Madonna, but that is indeed a misinformed comparison.  Madonna was a scrappy, dance-crazy punk who knew how to market herself well and dominate the world.  From the start, she approached everything like a businesswoman.  She even penned her own early hit “Lucky Star.”

Britney, on the other hand, has always come off as a mindless product, thrust upon us as part of an American crossover scheme engineered by a Swedish pop conglomerate.  She never had a shred of credibility. Her music has been made up of big, sugary hooks so poisonously infectious that they burn off a piece of your soul, with their sickening overly produced beats and shock-value levels of sex appeal.   With Madonna, the latter seems to come naturally. With Britney, it all seems forced.

So, with Britney all over the tabloids for her problematic marriage and divorce, lack of mothering skills, strange behavior and nifty handiwork with an electric razor, all eyes are now on “Blackout.”  Does it really matter?   Since the beginning, more emphasis has been put on her sex-bomb image. The music has always been an afterthought — and maybe it should stay that way.

Let’s start with the horrible album title. It’s not a good one for someone who has lately been acting so strangely. Does she not remember recording the album? One listen to it, and it sounds rather sterile — not in a “clean” way; it’s sort of like it hasn’t been touched by humans.  Even by electronic and dance music standards, this sounds remarkably artificial.

The tracks here suffer from a soul-crushing sameness.  Each track is skeletal with a low synth-driven bassline.  Britney groans and moans throughout.  Attempts to sound sexy just end up sounding seedy.  Her voice is heavily treated to give it a computerized sheen.

For the most part, production of the record is divided up between Danja and Bloodshy & Avant, with a few stray exceptions.  It’s upsetting to see Pharrell Williams and the Neptunes listed on the final track, “Why Should I Be Sad.”  Sure, the Neptunes built their name thanks in part to their collaborations with Britney, but they’ve done enough cool, edgy work with so many superior artists that their presence here seems like they’re slumming it.  Listen to the Neptunes’ work on the new album by their friend Kenna, or for that matter their N.E.R.D. records, and you will understand why they should really stay away from Britney.

The single “Gimme More” is 90 percent bounce and groan and 10 percent actual song.  To make things worse, the formula is repeated almost exactly a few songs later on “Freakshow.”

On “Get Naked (I Got a Plan),” what is supposed to be a seductive groove is drowned by a strange slowed-down voice singing the chorus.  Just because it sounds different, doesn’t mean it’s actually good.  The creepy voice sounds like something from “Eyes Wide Shut.”

“Piece of Me” is Britney’s attempt to fight back against her tabloid attackers, but its message gets lost in its juvenile double-entendre refrain of “You want a piece of me,” complete with a moaning in the background. Once again, the sea of digitally slowed-down voices kills the track.  It makes it sound like she is trying to imitate Madonna circa “Music.”  But it’s a pretty toothless attempt.   The pictures of her with a priest in the liner notes of the album also recall the Material Girl, but Britney just comes off like a follower trying to stir things up.

The blips and bloops on “Radar” get annoying quickly, as does the way Britney says “on my radar” as what sounds like “oh ma raida!”  As on many of these songs, the chorus is surprisingly minimal and more about ridiculous phrase repetition.

“Toy Soldier” is not a cover of the Martika song.  Instead, it is a hefty dance number fully merging army imagery and the previously mentioned moans and groans.  It’s almost as if it was imagined strategically with the Army product placement in mind for future promotional use.  With her coos of “I need a soldier,” one can imagine it being used in an ad for the armed forces.

“Hot as Ice” is the closest thing to a sunny track here with a traditional chorus, but it is ruined by lines that she can’t pull off.  She uses phrases like “handling her binn-ness” and “holla if you hear me!”  Once again, it doesn’t sound natural for her.

“Ooh Ooh Baby” is a generic sex vamp, complete with the not-so-subtle lines of “Touch me and I come alive / I can taste you on my lips, / I can feel you deep inside.”  Not only is it not original; it’s also not executed very creatively.

“Blackout” is indeed recyclable.  It’s the product of a society run amok with shallow glory and tabloid rage.  In the post “American Idol” world, musicianship and skill in the pop realm are taken even less seriously than before.  Every pop star is replaceable with a younger, fresher face willing to sell it all out and become the next glittering gimmick. The idea is “if you give the kids enough shiny things to look at, they won’t notice that the music is sub par.”  Stars are lined up and knocked down without thought to the human cost.  Vultures make money off misfortune and we get to be weaker and weaker as a society.  The more we celebrate this sort of behavior, the bigger the bruise on humanity.

Britney has not only continued this cycle, she has also been an unfortunate victim of it.  “Blackout” is a waste of precious shelf space. It is the work of an increasingly sad tabloid target angling to relocate a pop voice that wasn’t that strong to begin with.  She should be left alone and allowed to get her affairs in order without being scrutinized.

There are a lot more serious things happening in the world right now.  This record is a waste of your time and an insult to your intelligence.

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