“There was a time where I was one of a kind,” croons Britney Spears, early on her new record, Britney Jean.
And there’s some truth in that lyric.
Spears has come a long way from her full-on meltdown in 2007, having settled into something resembling a normal life — or as normal a life as a world-famous pop star can hope for.
Her music doesn’t make quite the impact it did a decade ago — Katy Perry and Lady Gaga now do battle atop the charts as Spears and her bete noire Christina Aguilera once did — and instead of innovative domination, Spears settles for keeping pace with the kids.
Britney Jean, the 32-year-old’s eighth studio album, continues what 2011’s Femme Fatale began (an embrace of electronic dance music’s glitchy, stylish appeal).
Working with a top-tier roster of producers, among them Diplo, David Guetta, will.i.am and William Orbit, these 10 tracks are precise sonic sculptures, filled with spaces carved out for Spears’ anodyne voice, which is subjected to all manner of filtering and manipulation (although the vocalist sounds appealingly husky on Perfume).
The result is shockingly brief — 36 minutes, stem to stern — and almost entirely forgettable, save the willfully edgy Body Ache.
Lead single Work B---- is irritatingly catchy, its repetition masking the total absence of any substance. The guests are used sparingly, with co-producer will.i.am beaming into It Should Be Easy, ubiquitous rapper T.I. turning up on the amusingly raunchy Tik Tik Boom and Spears’ younger sister, Jamie Lynn, making an appearance on Chillin’ With You.
With a two-year Las Vegas residency on the horizon (Spears isn’t touring behind this record), perhaps she has reached a kind of pop-superstar stasis. Freed from needing to stay competitive, Spears can just maintain until she calls it a day: surfacing with a new, unremarkable record every couple years, raising her children and, a decade or so from now, when nostalgia for the early aughts will probably be peaking, embarking on a lucrative hits tour.
There are, after all, worse fates for one-time wunderkinds.