Too bad Britney can’t black out this phase of her career

[31 October 2007]

By Glenn Gamboa

Newsday (MCT)

The new Britney Spears album “Blackout” (Jive) is terrible. But how could it not be?

After all, music was never really the strongest part of the Britney Spears package in the first place. She was more about, well, packaging—the look, the videos, the personal life, everything that surrounded the music.

So now, in the midst of all of her personal turmoil—the custody battle, the substance abuse allegations, the wobbly public performances—did anyone really expect “Blackout” to be some sort of artistic leap forward? Of course not.

Like much of the pre-fab dance beats and the robotic, studio-enhanced vocals that fill it, “Blackout” is simply the next, predictably pre-ordained step in “The Britney Spears Story,” which also doubles as her life. It’s the point in the narrative where the commercial failure of her album finally makes her realize that she needs help. It will be followed, of course, by rehab—both image and otherwise—and the inevitable comeback featuring songs about empowerment and making it through the rain and stuff, tentatively titled “The Emancipation of BritBrit.”

It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

What makes “Blackout” so over-the-top-bad isn’t Spears, however. Her seemingly minimal involvement is pretty obvious and her over-processed, faux-electro vocals could basically be dropped into any setting or reprocessed to fit any situation.

The real failure is in the ridiculous things that the songwriters give her to sing and the uninspired musical backdrops that the producers provide her.

The album’s best song, “Heaven on Earth,” a cross between Donna Summer’s Giorgio Moroder days and latter-day Kylie Minogue, could be a hit for anyone. Spears’ blank delivery doesn’t sink it, but it doesn’t really help it any, either. There was a time when getting Spears to do one of your songs was a coup. But now that her involvement is arguably a liability, you have to wonder why songwriter Kara DioGuardi would hand the song over to Spears instead of one of her many other superstar clients or even holding onto it herself.

For some, it’s a way of boasting, which Danjahandz does in the hammy ending to “Gimme More” and which Sean Garrett does on the Missy Elliott rip-off “Toy Soldier,” saying “Smash on the radio, bet I penned it.”

At other times, it seems like her handlers are pulling pranks, like big brothers getting their little siblings to say crazy stuff that they don’t understand. (“What I gotta do to get you to want my body?” she asks in “Get Naked.” “Won’t you warm up to me, baby? I can make you feel hot, hot, hot,” she sings in “Break the Ice.”)

Heck, even the title seems like a joke, considering the substance abuse allegations, even if her team tries to explain it away as a reference to “blocking out negativity and embracing life fully.”

Most of these dance tracks are benign enough, even if they sound like rejects from the Nicole Scherzinger album or the bland backing tracks of some cruise ship diva.

But on “Piece of Me,” a Spears protest song of sorts against people’s judgments and celebrity culture written by the Swedish duo Bloodshy & Avant, her woe-is-me attitude becomes ridiculous.

She runs through a list of judgments—“Oh my god, that Britney’s shameless” and “She’s too big, now she’s too thin”—that she believes are specific to her, even though judging and getting judged on the basis of looks and actions is unfortunately part of life for everyone, famous or not.

She runs through a list of complaints about the paparazzi and the tabloids, saying, “Don’t matter if I step on the scene or slink away to the Philippines, they still gonna put pictures of my derriere in the magazine.”

Well, actually, it does matter. While personal responsibility may be a hard concept to grasp, especially when work essentially crafted by others, like “Blackout,” appears with your name on it, nevertheless it’s a reality.

And the faster Spears recognizes that, the quicker we can move on to the next chapter in “The Britney Spears Story.” The current one, you see, has grown increasingly tedious.

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The downward trend of Britney Spears’ CD sales isn’t unusual among singers, especially those with an initially large teenage fan base. The velocity of the drop, though, is a bit more problematic, as Spears seems to lose millions of her fans from one album to the next.

Here’s a look at the Spears’ catalog:

”... Baby One More Time” (1999): Featuring the chart-topping title track and the hits “Crazy” and “Sometimes,” it arrived at the height of the bubblegum-pop explosion. It is tied for 26th on the list of top-selling albums of all time. Sales: 14 million.

“Oops ... I Did It Again” (2000): The title track spawned its own dance craze and, along with the hit “Stronger,” began Spears’ exit from the teen pop craze. Sales: 10 million.

“Britney” (2001): The song “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman” became the album’s slogan, as Spears sexed it up with “I’m a Slave 4 U” and her career as tabloid target began in earnest. Sales: 4 million.

“In the Zone” (2003): With help from her onetime mentor Madonna on “Me Against the Music” and what may go down as her best song ever, “Toxic,” Spears began her quest for being taken seriously. Sales: 2 million.

“Greatest Hits: My Prerogative” (2004): The repackaging of her hits with a lame Bobby Brown cover and a throwaway dance song “Do Somethin”” didn’t exactly make this compilation a must-have. Sales: 2 million.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/too-bad-britney-cant-black-out-this-phase-of-her-career/