Britney Spears, “Blackout” (Jive Records):
Just when it seemed safe to write off Britney Spears as a punch line only capable of entertaining people through tabloid escapades, she goes and gets all musically relevant on us.
“Blackout,” her first studio album in four years, is not only a very good album, it’s her best work ever — a triumph, with not a bad song to be found on the 12 tracks.
Granted, a Spears rave should be put in its proper context — it’s not like we’re talking Bob Dylan here. Spears is a lightweight singer who only flourishes when she has great songs and great producers to supplement her minimal vocal talent.
But when she has that help, she’s fierce. And she gets that boost on every single track on “Blackout,” a sizzling, well-crafted, electro-pop dancefest that should return her to pop’s elite.
This is a shocker, given all the lowlights Spears has given us this year. From her embarrassing MTV Video Music Awards performance to her bizarre public antics to allegations that she’s an irresponsible parent, Spears has been a walking disaster. It seems amazing that she even found her way to a recording studio, let alone did anything of value while in it.
But Spears emerges on “Blackout” as the antithesis of her tabloid persona — confident, sensual, and in control.
“I got my eye on you,” she coos on one of the album’s best tracks, “Radar,” a sexy techno groove that you can’t help but bounce to — a feeling that permeates all of “Blackout’s” tracks. You won’t find any saccharine ballads or fluffy pop on this disc — it’s all about generating heat on the dance floor (and if Spears has shown us anything in the last year, it’s that she knows how to party).
On the aptly titled “Freakshow,” produced by Danja (who worked on Justin Timberlake’s “FutureSex/LoveSounds”), Spears gets voyeuristic with a tantalizing promise to get wild in the club. The hypnotic “Get Naked (I Got A Plan),” also produced by Danja, features Spears breathlessly asking, “What I gotta do to make you move my body” before demanding, “take it off, take it off, take it off.”
It’s not all about grinding to the music, though. On rock-tinged “Piece of Me,” produced by Bloodshy & Avant, she defiantly addresses her critics: “I’m Mrs. Bad Media Karma, another day another drama ... I’m Mrs. Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, I’m Mrs. ‘Oh My God That Britney’s Shameless.’ ” And on the slow-burn, Neptunes-produced “Why Should I Be Sad,” the album’s last track, she cops to heartbreak but refuses to let it get her down, a rare vulnerable moment.
Listening to “Blackout” is not only an energetic release, it’s also a relief: No, Spears hasn’t completely lost it, and yes, her career has a flicker of fire left — actually much, much more. But with all the damage Spears has done and continues to do to her public image, will anyone outside her core fan base (and who knows what that consists of these days) care anymore?
This album is the first, great step in making that happen.