Britney Spears struggles to find emotional balance on ‘Britney Jean’

via wikipedia.org

“Britney Jean” is an album divided.

Whereas Britney Spears’ last several LPs (“Femme Fatale,” “Circus,” “Blackout”) felt like cohesive works with overarching ideas, “Britney Jean” feels like a collection of clashing ideas in search of a singular product.

In promotional interviews leading up to “Britney Jean,” the pop star built up hype by labeling the album an “intensely personal” one. Considering the critical success of 2007’s intimate and confessional “Blackout,” this seemed to bode well for the success of “Britney Jean.” However, the album is ultimately only confessional in the way that “Blackout” was.

True, the standout tracks on the album are often those that feel slow and reflective — “Alien” and “Perfume” are especially memorable — but there are also high energy tracks that would feel at home on 2011’s EDM party “Femme Fatale.”

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“Tik Tik Boom” is catchy and fun, and it recalls the droning hook of recent Spears classic “Womanizer” for its use of repetition. But a chorus as simple as “Better make me tik tik tik tik tik tik boom/tik tik tik tik tik tik tik” is nowhere near as emotionally deep as Spears promised. But the lyrics on many of these tracks demonstrate Spears’ vulnerable side. On “Alien,” she sings with poignancy, “There was a time I was one of a kind.”

Much of the recent criticism of Spears targets her work on the will.i.am track “Scream & Shout,” which was lamented by fans and pop music critics alike for being obnoxious. As a result, many expressed concern in the weeks leading up to “Britney Jean” because of will.i.am’s considerable presence on the album.

As it turns out, his contribution to the album is uneven but inoffensive. While his featured track, “It Should Be Easy,” uses abrasive electronics, as does “Scream & Shout,” he is also credited on “Til It’s Gone,” which has intricate beat drops that are up to par with the bangers of 2011’s superlative “Femme Fatale.”

Spears superfans will be excited to see a duet with sister Jamie Lynn Spears on “Chillin’ With You.” The track is campy fun (“I drank some white wine/Now I’m walking on the sky”) with over-the-top fronting (“When I’m wit chu I’m chilling/I’m chillin’ I’m chill”). But those hoping for an intimate look into the sisters’ relationship may be left wanting — the track is devoid of substantial personal detail.

While “Britney Jean” is not as cohesive as previous albums, it still often delivers. Tracks such as “Perfume,” “Alien,” “Til It’s Gone” and “Tik Tik Boom” include exhilarating moments that would be at home on Spears’ previous three standout albums.

Spears’ hardcore fans will delight at each song on “Britney Jean,” but even more casual members of the Britney Army will find something to their liking.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Dec. 3 print edition. Jake Folsom is music editor. Email him at [email protected]

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