Robo-Brit Is Back, Bitch, Leading Us to the Center of the Dance Floor

Britney Spears
Femme Fatale
Jive

With Femme Fatale, the dethroned princess of pop is a club queen on a mission: to grind/booze herself away into oblivion ’til daybreak. (Or, as Spears’s production team might have us believe, the end of the world.)

The album presses further down the stiletto-beaten path of Spears’s last two efforts, 2008’s Circus and 2007’s critically acclaimed Blackout. Here, a sense of frenetic urgency bars any pause for meditative balladry: there’s no graver concern than the outcome of a night on the dance floor, save whatever immediately follows — though, as suggested on the infectious, shameless “Up ‘n’ Down,” Britney doesn’t exactly require a pillow.

Each of Britney’s last three releases has leaned less on her famously thin vocals, though the results here are arguably the most compelling of all: beyond the miles of auto-tune and requisite breathy come-ons are a dozen or so club bangers that are as good an excuse for an impromptu dance party as any of what pop’s leading ladies have offered up lately, if not better.

“Gasoline” and “Big Fat Bass” in particular — both of which find Spears rekindling her long-running affinity for smutty metaphor — shine brightest in a trove of pop-music gems. The latter features will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas playing “bass” opposite Britney’s treble. (It doesn’t take a BA in English Lit to figure out the playful symbolism).

Spears herself, granted, contributes little to the allure. “Femme Fatale” is a triumph almost entirely of her producers, the list of whom reads like a who’s who of pop-music tastemakers over the last few years: Dr. Luke, the Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am and Max Martin (who’s been pulling the strings since Britney’s “…Baby One More Time” days) are but a few of the puppeteers.

Styles range accordingly, from thundering dubstep (see first single “Hold it Against Me”) to breathy, mid-tempo experimentation (“How I Roll”).

Soul-wrenching autobiography it’s not, but after six major releases and years of tabloid scrutiny, Spears still makes a damn impressive blank canvas. (8/10)

— Trevor Cox

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