[5 November 2001]
Britney. Yeah, Britney.“A
ll I need is time,” sings Britney Spears on Britney, her third album in as many years, and while three years really isn’t much time to evolve as an artist, it’s just enough for Britney to pass muster in the ever-changing world of pop.
Britney’s first album, . . . Baby One More Time was about her innocence and seeming naïveté regarding her blossoming sexuality. Her second, Oops! I Did It Again, used that blossoming sexuality as a shock gimmick with Britney all of a sudden proclaiming her “not-so-innocence”. This time around, it all takes a turn and while there is still a lot of warbling about boys-and-love-and-stuff, and, of course, the obligatory booby shots on the CD sleeve, what Britney has going for it is the singer’s obvious desire to develop musically. Be it her choice or not, Britney is about the most scrutinized, teased and tossed-off-to pop star of the last decade stepping out of the mall to discover herself.
And what a discovery it is. Britney loudly declares she wants to be free and no longer requires a chaperone, and she certainly doesn’t need a guy to make her happy. Of course, it’s nothing we haven’t heard before from such Britney-predecessors such as Debbie Gibson and Janet Jackson, but it is reassuring to see Britney attempting, at least, to test her musical diversity.
The album kicks off with the sultry “I’m a Slave 4 U” in which Britney begs her guy of choice to “dance upon her” amid breathy, emotive noises slapping her listeners in the face with her new found womanhood. As the accompanying soft-porn music video will attest, “Slave” is the perfect beginning to the sounds of a freshly legal Britney, in which she attempts a bit of Madonna’s “Justify My Love” and Janet’s “All For You” with reasonable success.
Also different from the average run-of-the-mill pop offering, is Britney’s cover of The Blackhearts’ “I Love Rock and Roll”. It’s more than a little obvious that Britney herself had nothing to do with the choice of song, after all, she did refer to Joan Jett as Pat Benatar in a recent interview. Even so, she does strange justice to the tune vamping up her vocals and turning out something, that while silly and camp, is actually a fun listen.
Britney continues her growing-up theme in “Let Me Be” and reveals that she is learning more about herself as she enters her 20s having discovered that alone time is important for personal growth. And “Anticipating” offers Britney’s fans something a little different with a simple tune beautifully underlined by a well-executed ‘70s disco sound.
Britney continues to break free in “Overprotected” and “Lonely”. “Overprotected”, Britney‘s second single, is an absolute belter reminiscent of Britney’s previous big-bang singles, “Oops! I Did It Again” and “You Drive Me Crazy”. Britney sings about ridding herself of the girlie chains around her, gripes about her need for space in the whirlwind that is her life, and lets us know she don’t need nobody telling her what to do. “Lonely” again shows a progression for Britney, this time from sappy romantic tunes to something a bit more realistic. “Lonely” is a teenage version of Janet’s “What About?” and screams to an (imaginary) unlucky guy who has screwed Britney over. It’s a song about strength in heartbreak and Britney’s vocal experimentation—fusing her jellybean voice with lyrics a little more caustic—again succeeds in giving her audience something new to admire.
Britney’s experimentation pretty much ends there with tried and tested dance-pop filling out the remainder of the album. Both “Boys” and “Cinderella” revisit old Britney territory exploring predictable issues including her love being irreplaceable, her use of the dance floor as an appropriate courting place, and her much-loved girl-ness (primping for a big date, etc). “That’s Where You Take Me” talks about her lucky guy finding the key to her soul, while on “When I Found You” Britney tells us she has found her “deepest love” in her soul mate who is essentially a reflection of herself. And then “Before the Goodbye” details Britney missing her “love” before he even leaves. It’s all very strange and ignore-able.
Britney’s own lucky lad, Justin Timberlake adds some flavor to Britney having co-written “What It’s Like to Be Me” again sounding a lot like the new (and bitter) Janet Jackson. The song comes very close to being a duet with Timberlake as he harmonizes along with Britney as she explains to the world that for her to love a man, he must have walked a mile in her shoes.
Britney’s standout statement on the album is undoubtedly “I’m a Girl, Not Yet a Woman” which is a slightly sappy Diane Warren-inspired power ballad that allows Britney to showcase her expert vocals while still adhering to the rules of safe pop. Sadly, not enough is revealed about Britney’s transformation into adulthood, as it seems the tune’s writer, Dido, has kept all her mysterious and engaging songs for herself.
And there you have it: a, might I say, very open-minded and forgiving look at the new, adult Britney Spears. Many of the tunes are good for a romp around the kitchen (or the dance floor, if you prefer) but the girl is right when she says she is yet to come into her own both as a woman and a recording artist. But, again, just like she says, all she needs is time.