life might be playing out like a disaster movie, but her
fifth studio album is far from the train wreck folks were
expecting. She certainly doesn't sound like a woman
coming unglued. In fact, despite boasting a plethora
of outside producers and songwriters, Blackout is
startlingly consistent. Almost to a fault. Almost.
"Gimme More," the
album's lead track and first single, sets the template
for what follows. Sleazy keyboards, mechanized hand claps,
and oscillating bass frequencies dominate. Madonna and
Kylie Minogue have already strip-mined '80s nostalgia,
but that doesn't deter Britney and her coconspirators.
Even with help from Nate "Danjahandz" Hills as well
as Bloodshy and Avant (the duo behind "Toxic")
nothing here breaks new ground; with its acoustic guitar
licks and stomping glam-rock rhythm bed, "Ooh Ooh
Baby" is basically a second-rate Goldfrapp knockoff.
And, like most of the record, what it lacks in
mystique it compensates for with myriad sonic hooks,
deployed with the precision of a military -- or
advertising -- campaign.
Still, there are
moments that break the monotony. "Heaven on Earth"
shamelessly recalls Berlin's classic "Sex (I'm A),"
pulsating Giorgio Moroder-style Eurodisco topped with
a grocery list lyric, but its off-kilter dreamy chorus
also injects the proceedings with some much-needed
cheer, a ray of piercing sunshine in lieu of more dry
ice and blue neon. The arrangements and kooky backing vocals
of "Hot as Ice," courtesy of T-Pain, actually measure
up to the lighter moments of OutKast and Gnarls
Barkley. Best of all is the closer, "Why Should I Be
Sad," a bittersweet ditty produced by Pharrell
Williams (of the Neptunes) reminiscent of vintage Janet
But what does
"the legendary Ms. Britney Spears" -- as she is billed
on "Gimme More" -- contribute, besides the
autobiographical bile of "Piece of Me"? A lot of rote
affirmations: Britney is hot. Britney is freaky. Britney
likes boys. Boys like her. Paparazzi can suck her left
one. Lather, rinse, repeat. Yet these mantras, however
trite, keep Blackout on steady course for its
44-minute running time. As a soundtrack for getting
dressed on a Saturday night, you could do far worse.
This is not a
revolutionary re-imaging of the Britney Spears brand. But
graded on the curve? She passes, easily. The album falls shy
of the marks set last year by Fergie and Nelly
Furtado, but neither does it approach the
oxygen-deprived depths of, say, the last Jessica Simpson
disc. A few more glimpses into the lunacy of Spears's
private life might have transformed this set into
something truly memorable, but even with
by-the-numbers execution, Blackout isn't as
imminently forgettable as its title implies.