Blog Archive

Posts, photos, podcasts and videos (2005-2020)

Britney Spears “Femme Fetale” Review

Published in Blog Archive, Culture Bully. Tags: , .

Femme Fatale isn’t Britney Spears‘ “comeback” album, it’s not likely to stand as her best album and it’s not a “game-changing” collection of tracks, set to once again reshape her image to better blend in with the shifting pop cultural tide. That being the case, Femme Fetale is exactly what it needs to be. Like many of her contemporaries, Spears’ new release is built around songs constructed by Dr. Luke and Max Martin. Unlike with many of the records that have recently been released by these female “luminaries” working with the hitmakers however, there is a noticeably lack of pretense amongst Femme Fatale‘s tracks that allow them to breathe. The album isn’t a writing team and production crew’s soundtrack to a young vocalist’s romantic rehabilitation and it’s not a bloated collection of pop basics repackaged with an edge and sold as the face of nü-feminism. Femme Fatale is an album about celebrating the night: music for and about the clubs and the intimate aftermath that follows.

The stadium-sized party anthem “Till the World Ends” and dubstep inspired “Hold It Against Me” each set an immediate standard for the energy level which continues throughout the album. Not unlike the release’s honest motivation, circumventing a potentially questionable back story to sell the record, Femme Fatale often spits in the face of contemporaries whose platforms are guided by pretentious claims of working without vocal enhancement while clearly leaning heavily on pitch shifting. The Ke$ha-penned “Till the World Ends” goes so far as to stagger vocal breaks to help build momentum through to the chorus, using the technique not to correct Spears’ voice, but to accentuate the fade leading into a momentous boom. The song was made to kill in the club and will no doubt continue to do so for years to come.

“Inside Out” teases Matrix-like digital static while vocally invoking a bit of Aaliyah and “I Wanna Go” blends a pulsating beat with an infectious whistling sample which could just as easily have been the basis for an ABBA hit some 30 years ago. “How I Roll” takes a relaxed pace in working bubbling (literally) production under a melody that at times sounds suspiciously similar to Rihanna’s “Disturbia” while adding a fading drawl to Spears’ sugary vocals (“Speakerrrrrrrrrrr”). The hard-snapping “(Drop Dead) Beautiful” settles into place as momentum begins to stall, L.A. rapper Sabi then stepping in for a few forgettable bars: “Got me kinda hot but I ain’t sweatin’ you/Stir me like a pot of vegetables.” It might be valid if one were to complain about Femme Fatale being a bit top top-heavy; the most energetic songs are front-loaded and electricity slowly fades away as the album progresses. Considering the imbalance of momentum however, Femme Fatale still carries on remarkably well throughout the entire release.

“Seal It With a Kiss” is as corny as track as the album has, but it maintains an upbeat rhythm which carries into “Big Fat Bass.” One’s appreciation of “BFB” will largely depend on how you feel about will.i.am, who wrote, produced and performed on the song. To me personally, at this point in time the man’s career is nothing but one giant ongoing karmic joke, his ever-increasingly popularity serving as some sort of reminder to talented (yet unknown and struggling) musicians everywhere of their apparent misdeeds committed in past lives. All things considered however, it’s likely as tolerable as a post-Fergie will.i.am track is going to get.

The revving electronics of “Trouble For Me” eventually wind into “Trip to Your Heart”; built on a base of classic house synth, the track utilizes tender vocals which are initially hard to stomach, though the gentle nature of the song goes a long ways in diluting their acidic concentration. “Gasoline” works unremarkable lyrics (“My heart only runs on supreme/So hot, give me your gasoline”) around the album’s final energetic track before a flute (!) floats into a thick bass punch in “Criminal.” The track continues as an acoustic guitar accompanies Spears while she moans, “Mama I’m in love with a criminal/And this type of love isn’t rational—it’s physical.” The unpredictable twist in pace and tone add a refreshing conclusion to the otherwise boisterous collection of songs.

Though lyrical depth and well-crafted production haven’t exactly been mainstays of Britney Spears’ lengthy musical career, her albums haven’t exactly been the most consistent pieces of modern pop music either. With Femme Fatale the former is clearly of little consideration—there is no claim made toward any real meaning to the music and, “Criminal” included, the vocals largely serve as simply another instrument: Spears’ purpose on the album is to sound good with the music that surrounds her. But it’s the music that surrounds her that sets Femme Fatale apart from many of the singer’s past recordings. Though not entirely consistent, it is steady in delivering track after musically relevant track of delightfully vibrant music which pleasantly complements Spears’ contributions. Once again, the album is exactly what it needed to be; which is simply to say that Femme Fatale might actually be worthy of its mighty hype.