If anyone understands the importance of first impressions, it’s Britney Spears. When her debut single, ” . Baby One More Time,” was released in 1998 to the teeming masses of American pre-teens, it rocketed Spears to the top of the charts and international stardom. Spears’ entire career was built on that tremendous first impression.
So it’s surprising that her so-called comeback album, “Blackout”, starts off on such a bad foot: the first five seconds consist of Spears stating defiantly, “It’s Britney, b****!”
With such an insufferable introduction – and referring to herself in the third person, no less – it would be easy to give “Blackout” one of five stars and call it a day. But that wouldn’t be fair to a Grammy Award-winning artist who has sold over 80 million records and earned so many die-hard fans.
It also wouldn’t be fair to judge the album based on Britney’s often tumultuous and all-too-public personal life. It is, after all, about the music.
Then again, “Blackout” finds Britney facing her portrayal in the tabloids head on. On the impossibly catchy “Piece of Me,” she declares, “I’m Ms. Bad Media Karma / Another day, another drama.”
Perhaps propelled by righteous indignation, Britney uses this song to assert her vocal presence as well. Her often-distorted voice is irresistibly strong, sassy and sexy. Most of all, it’s confident: when she wails, “you want a piece of me,” it isn’t a question, but a statement.
Complete with a thumping beat and sweeping synthesizers, the track is a perfect slice of dance-pop fun and it’s not alone. Songs like “Gimme More” and “Radar” remind us how Britney became a pop-superstar in the first place.
But all of the best songs on “Blackout” are stuffed into the very beginning of the album – it’s almost like Britney didn’t even expect us to listen to the whole thing.
And really, there’s no reason to. Midway through “Blackout,” it all starts to sound the same. Quite frankly, one album can only handle so many synth riffs, echoes and handclaps.
The music might be stale, but the lyrics, which Spears co-wrote, are positively vapid. On the raunchy “Perfect Lover,” Britney sings inanely, “My body feels like an inferno / Like I’m running a race and I’m jumping the hurdles.”
Of course, nobody was expecting lyrical subtlety from a Britney Spears album. The only reasonable expectation on Britney is that she makes simple, carefree pop music that’s fun to dance to – and that’s exactly what “Blackout” delivers.
In a year full of scandals and missteps, “Blackout” manages to not be an embarrassment, and at this point in Britney Spears’ career that’s a small victory in and of itself.
Verve writer Nick Scheidies can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.