Talent drain sinks 'Britney'
November 6, 2001
POP MUSIC REVIEW BY JIM DEROGATIS
A palpable air of desperation permeates "Britney," the third album by
teen-pop phenom Britney Spears, which arrives in record stores today.
Rarely in pop history has an attractive young diva's attempt to seduce us
sounded so desperate. Never has a coldly calculated sexual come-on been so
Hey, Britney: Why not just douse us with a bucket of ice water while
you're at it?
"Britney" presents two kinds of serious problems. First are the purely
musical--above all the fact that Spears cannot sing. True, this has not
stopped other dance-pop divas, Janet Jackson and Jennifer Lopez among them.
But while the grating nature of Spears' helium chirp was well-masked by
the sugar-coated hooks cooked up by Swedish producer Max Martin on the
12-million-selling "...Baby One More Time" and the 10-times-platinum "Oops!
I Did It Again," her shortcomings as a vocalist become glaringly apparent on
"Britney" in new tracks crafted by hip-hop duo the Neptunes and R&B giant
Though there are different levels of inability, Spears is much worse than
Lopez or Jackson. If there was a most valuable player at these recording
sessions, it was no doubt the computerized pitch-shifter employed to place
Spears vaguely in the same key as the toy-store melodies and cheap
electronic backing tracks.
The other problem is more intriguing: How can this bubble-gum queen
retain her core audience of teenyboppers as they undergo the inevitable
process of growing up and discarding the trappings of youth, including the
Britney music they loved as pre-teens?
Part of Spears' strategy is to try to stay one step ahead of the kids.
She gives us a bevy of "ultra-personal" new tunes (she allegedly co-wrote
five of the 12 ditties on the new album) filled with a lot of florid lyrical
hoo-ha revolving around that fact that, to paraphrase the title of one song,
she's not a girl, not yet a woman.
The Louisiana-born singer turns 20 on Dec. 2, and I'm certain that her
accountants and the plastic surgeon who allegedly enhanced her bust size
would scoff at her protestations that she is not yet an adult. But let's set
that aside for a moment.
While she's trying to address the awkward period between childhood
naivete and adult awareness, Spears ratchets up the very-NC-17 Lolita
temptress routine introduced on "Oops!," and now takes it to vulgar new
levels as she breathes heavy and whispers dirty little nothings in the ears
of older male listeners through porno soundtrack fodder such as "Boys" and
"I'm a Slave 4 U."
In this postmodern era, many artists attempt to be different things to
different listeners. But despite the advances of modern science, it's still
impossible to be a virgin and a whore at the same time, regardless of how
hard Britney tries.
Then add to the inherent cynicism of Spears' current act a lot of
self-obsessed whining about the hard life of a superstar ("Overprotected,"
"What It's Like to Be Me"), and you have an album that is spectacularly,
phenomenally annoying on almost every level.