Britney Spears has been hawking “Britney Jean” as her “most personal” album, a claim that has been inciting hype for months. This anticipation may mostly be because her personality, Southern drawl, personal relationships and childhood have never really made their way into her music since her earliest albums. Unfortunately, if fans were expecting “Britney Jean” to be an exploratory exercise in storytelling, they will be deeply disappointed by this album, her eighth release.
The lyrics, production and vocals in “Britney Jean” are plagued by a severe identity crisis. This isn’t shocking, as some songs have up to seven songwriters and six producers. With that many cooks in the kitchen, it’s no wonder the album sounds so disjointed. The production, helmed by will.i.am of The Black Eyed Peas, is so atrociously filtered that the entire record sounds as if it were recorded inside of a tin can. For instance, the would-be club anthem “It Should be Easy” features a chugging funk guitar matched with a wince-inducing vocoder effect on Spears’ thin vocals. The result is a repetitive and cluttered parody of an outstanding pop song.
The songwriting, while not overtly terrible, is pathetically bland. On the opening track “Alien,” Spears softly sings, “But stars in the sky look like home/ Take me home/ And the light in your eyes lets me know I’m not alone,” a sentiment that falls flat. On “Tik Tik Boom,” Spears chants the title ad nauseam, while her filtered vocals humorously distort “tik” into slang for the male phallus — and arguably, “D— D— Boom” would have been a more interesting song.
However, a few songs pan out well, particularly the brilliant narrative “Perfume,” which is easily Spears’ best ballad since “Everytime,” as well as the heavy-hitting pop rock track, “Passenger.” Co-written by Katy Perry, the song is vulnerable and suits Spears’ vocals.
By the album’s end, “Britney Jean” has churned out four fantastic tracks and a handful of confusingly bland attempts at writing and producing pop music, a terrifying notion, given that Spears is typically a trend setter in pop music. Hopefully, other acts — here’s looking at you, Lady Gaga — don’t follow in the footsteps of the hot mess that is “Britney Jean.”