The Maneater

Spears shocks and sickens with Blackout

The party's gone on a little too long.

Any Top 40 fan knows Britney Spears' comeback single "Gimme More" starts out with a digitally altered Spears announcing "It's Britney, bitch."

It's like you hear a knock at the door at 3 a.m., and as you rub sleep from your eyeballs, you drowsily ask, "Who's there?"

Then you realize, "Crap, it's that drunk girl from the party who followed you home and has now caught a diamond-encrusted eyelash in your peephole."

If you let this metaphorical Britney in, she will trash your proverbial house. She'll wield a bar stool she stole from the club like a sledgehammer to your bookcase, your television and your Wii. When she's done, she'll take off all her clothes and show you the naked break-dance moves she learned in the communal showers at rehab. Then she'll throw up and pass out on your floor.

And then a disco ball will appear out of nowhere, hang itself and spin from your

ceiling.

That's what Britney's new album, Blackout, sounds like: moments of shock, beauty and sick fascination surrounded by bass beats, glitter and nausea.

Don't get me wrong; Blackout has strong tracks, even a couple of hits, but as a whole, it's one of her weaker albums and shows a lack of growth as a performer and lack of diversity in sound.

It's like she's funneled all of her energy not into maturing as an artist (yes, at a very basic level I still consider her an artist) but into becoming even crazier.

She's taken her "I ain't never gonna stop" attitude to the deepest pit of her Mouseketeer, Red Bull-driven heart.

I get it: Her demographic is people who want to dance all night.

But these songs flow together in a way that makes them sound too similar, and after awhile, abrasive. A couple stand out — "Radar" and "Ooh Ooh Baby," for example — but this train doesn't stop until long after everyone else wanted to get off.

Even in the heat of the most sexually charged, crowded dance floor, someone is going to realize this will end badly.

"Wait, did Britney Spears just sexually assault a robot?"

I guess the problem is that it's impossible to objectively look at Spears. Her first album in years comes after being married, divorced, spawning two kids, being chewed up by the media and letting her vagina fall out the bottom of skirt more times than she commands you to "get naked" on her new album. But none of that is in this album.

Sure, she takes a couple of swings at the media in "Piece of Me" and a couple of regretful knocks at K-Fed in "Why Should I Be Sad," but if anyone was expecting a grand "fuck you" to her critics, he or she will be underwhelmed.

Blackout lacks any ounce of self awareness, which will come as no surprise to many, but at least a few fans expected her to emerge from the other side of this media hurricane with a couple of scrapes and bruises, but as a generally wiser, stronger person willing to take a few jabs at herself.

Instead, all you see is crazy Britney trying to get you to peel off your skinny jeans and hop in the hot tub.

I should have known, though; subtlety has never been Spears' strong point.

I'm not going to lie: I'm going to keep a couple of tracks on my playlists for power hours and parties, because Spears' does a good job of entertaining in three-minute increments. But if I play this album all the way through, partygoers will either pass out or catch STRIPES back to The Reserve.

To put it optimistically, Blackout is not Britney Spears' redemption, nor is it her obituary. Instead, it's her screen saver, bouncing intermission-ready show tunes for us hopefuls before a resounding second act, but it's exit music for the rest.

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