AKIE BERMISS: Last week, AOL put Britney Spears’ entire new album, Femme Fatale (which came out yesterday), on their site for free streaming. The entire record, from start to finish. Every track. It was… illuminating. Now if you’re like me, you probably spend most days of the year forgetting that Britney Spears even exists. She is so beyond relevance and meaning that it seems inconceivable that she is still making music. And yet — if you use the term “music” very loosely — she is.
The only thing fatal about Femme Fatale is listening to the entire thing in one sitting. I did this in order to get it over with. I’m a yank-the-bandaid-off kind of guy. So, I got my high-speed internet all neat and tidy, plugged in my good headphones, and I hit play. The next 45 minutes were a world of pain unlike any I have ever before experienced musically.
Oh, now, there are good albums and there are bad albums and there are mediocre albums that don’t really mean anything to anyone. They are inoffensive, unremarkable, and ultimately forgettable. No harm, no foul. Sadly, this record is all harm and all foul. I simply couldn’t stand it. If I hadn’t promised the editors of The Perpetual Post that I would listen to the record, I would have gladly stopped about 50 seconds into the first song and never looked back. By they time I got to the end of the last track, “Criminal”, I was just about ready to gouge my eyes out and walk off into the desert.
The trouble with Femme Fatale is that it never really delivers on the Britney Spears “gotcha!” track. So far every album she’s made — no matter how crappy or zany it was overall — contained at least one track that you had to admit was just a damned good pop song. Either it was slightly innovative and off-kilter or it was just so ridiculously catchy you couldn’t resist. I mean, when you’re a pop star, you basically have to understand that 95% of the music you make is going to be utter garbage. But if 5% of it can strike a chord, you’ve won yourself salvation.
When Circus, her last album, came out I was pretty sure that there was nothing on it worth listening to. Then I heard the single “Womanizer” and I was blown away. Not a great song, no. Not a masterpiece. Not even a pop milestone. But it was just such a perfect bit of each candy. Just edgy enough to accept as artistic, full of sweet slightly syncopated words, and a subject matter that at least had some sort of contour. Femme Fatale has no track like that.
Several songs on the record approach listenability, but none really make it. And with Spear’s music its like there is a indiscernible but discrete barrier that her music has to cross and then its quite nice to listen to. But there’s no gradual build up. Song aren’t bad, ok, pretty good, and awesome. They are basically horrible — or in the sweet spot. And every song on this recent record misses the sweet spot. And every which way.
The record opens with “Til The World Ends” which is your basic, nondescript club dance track. If I’m not mistaken she even mentions dancing and asking a DJ for favors and all those necessary signposts. Only the song is pretty boring. ”Hold It Against Me” is an extended bad pick-up line that purports itself as some sort of clever play on words. I had high hopes for the break-up sex song “Inside Out” but aside from the provocative line that accompanies songs title in the hook, its a pretty trite bit of nonsense.
From there, things really descend into the depths of mediocrity. ”Big Fat Bass” (featuring Will.I.Am) has some potential as well but despite its catchy intro, its also musical excrement. And “Drop Dead (Beautiful)” almost had me — except isn’t the idiom drop-dead gorgeous? She manages to quote Biggie Smalls in the song and then sing the word “hypmahtize” with what seems like a straight face. I give bonus points for that. But it doesn’t save the song from the rotting carcass of the rest of the record.
And through out, Britney’s greatest weakness is horrifically up front and center: her grating, nasally singing voice. The last thing I want to hear Spears do is try to sing a song. Merely even mentioning it makes my heart labor a bit in my chest.
Well, for me, its all over. If I never hear Femme Fatale again, it will be too soon. Normally, when I write a bad review for an artist I say I hope they regain their senses or that they have better luck next time or something nice like that. After listening to this record all I can say is I hope she stops. Please. Stop making music. Write poetry, adopt babies from Africa, take up politics — whatever. Just please, Britney, leave music alone.
You’ve done enough.
JESSICA BADER: When it comes to music, I have a major weakness for the sort of teenybopper pop that was popular when I was in middle school. All of those bright, shiny odes to love lost, found, or unrequited, performed by conventionally attractive people in their late teens and early 20s, produced by Swedish masterminds, still take up residence on my iPod today, running me the risk of total humiliation and never being taken seriously again should that device fall into the wrong hands. Britney Spears was one of the biggest stars of that moment, her second and third albums in particular overflowing with sublime pop gems that I enjoy just as much at 24 as I did at 15. Her latest work, however, does not live up to that peak.
To be sure, Femme Fatale has its moments. “(Drop Dead) Beautiful” is absolutely crying out to be used on some CW drama, and much of the album would not sound out of place on the dancefloor at a club. That, perhaps, is my problem with the album. Britney would never be mistaken for a vocal powerhouse, and her albums were filled with tunes known more for their catchiness than their lyrical profundity. But back in her heyday, the Pro Tools was used to clean up Britney’s vocals, not as an instrument or effect of its own, and if the songs were fluff, they were more relatable fluff than tales of dancefloor debauchery and didn’t contain the painfully silly sort of lyrics found on ”How I Roll” and “Gasoline.” It’s instructive that the first track of the album (and its second single), “Till the World Ends,” was co-written by Ke$ha, one of the top names of this pop moment, which is churning out the sort of songs that seem less suited for listening to than for being used as sonic wallpaper at a dancefloor near you.
I hope that Britney is able to “come back” from what have been a rough couple of years for her both personally and professionally. But when it comes to listening to her music, I think I’ll skip Femme Fatale and return to the days when Max Martin produced the R&B-tinged bubblegum that was the soundtrack of my adolescence.