Britney Bombs Out

Say hello to the girl that I am/ You're gonna have to see through my perspective

With Britney, the pop-icon's third CD, Spears desperately wants her listeners to get to know her. She's "Overprotected." She's "not a girl, yet not a woman." Oh, and she "loves rock'n'roll." After years of manufactured ear-candy and provocative eye-candy, Britney declares, "Baby it's time that you've seen me for real."

Unfortunately, this isn't "Jagged Little Pill" or even "Control"--nowhere on the album does Britney reveal herself as anything more than stereotypically super-tart, toeing the line between dance club seductress and defensive teen. The most exposed Britney gets is in the accompanying photos. At her most "personal," the lyrics aren't even her own: Most of the "songs about me" were written by teams of male songwriters--Swedish powerhouses Max Martin and Rami; hip-hop maestros The Neptunes; even her teen-dream boyfriend, Justin Timberlake. When your boyfriend is penning the lyrics to [you don't know] "What It's Like to be Me," you can't help but wonder if her issues with being overprotected and misunderstood directly relate to the fact that "her" songs mostly aren't "hers." As much as she feels the lyrics, her "feelings"--like the music itself--seem calculated and overproduced.

Not to say the music doesn't work. Like her previous albums, Britney delivers a set of catchy, meticulously detailed tracks, well-suited for midriff-bearing butt-shaking. The production quality is undeniably outstanding--but so was the production on Paula Abdul's Spellbound. It's one of those discs that gets better with each listen, but at first taste, it's like an M&M candy shell without the chocolate middle--colorful on the surface but nothing substantive to sink your teeth into.

You have to give her credit--she is trying to break out of her TRL shell. Her vocal capabilities are expanding under the guidance of some of the best in the business--Rodney Jerkins brings out Britney's bottom (a la Toni Braxton) on the R&B-rooted "Let Me Be" and "Lonely." She ventures into two-step territory with "That's Where You Take Me," and of course, "I'm a Slave 4 U" features a "new" Britney sound altogether. Nonetheless, these departures simply mirror the trends of current mainstream pop music--increased electronic influence, harder hip-hop edges and all-star production teams. The "real" musical Brit just happens to be exactly what's "in" right now... coincidence?

On Britney, she also continues her calculated pushing of the envelope, using words this time around like "Damn," and, well... have you seen the "Slave" video? In any case, she's working--in baby steps--away from her "teen-pop" image. But slutting it up while singing laments of being misunderstood--if that's not the equation for precociousness, what is?

Britney asks us to "walk a mile in [her] shoes." After 12 tracks totalling under 40 minutes, we've run around the block with Brit, and you've got to worry if that's it. On an album that proclaims--incessantly, emphatically--that this is the real Britney, you hope there's more to her than these shallow attempts at "self-"expression.


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