Britney Spears Britney Spears: Femme Fatale – review


Femme Fatale? The title of Britney's seventh album suggests a mystique redolent of cigarette holders and smouldering glances across cocktail parties. A more accurate title might be "In Season". For these are 12 all-out mating calls, issued on an endlessly pulsating dancefloor, in which Spears dispenses with any other subject matter save her unquenchable lust.

Spears went big with this predatory insatiability around the time of 2007's Blackout, released concurrently with what appeared to be a nervous breakdown. It was a little weird at the time, how she conducted herself like a Duracell sexbot in song, while her children were being removed and her affairs handed over to her father.

But the idea of dead-eyed female lubriciousness is now a Britney staple, and this album is better at it than most. Femme Fatale's first two singles – "Hold It Against Me" and "Till The World Ends" – have garnered praise, despite being two of the less arresting songs on the album. The standard is high. The cringe-making "Criminal" aside, there are no noisome ballads cluttering up the steady throb of Auto-Tuned solicitation.

There is, moreover, one copper-bottomed work of pop finery on this album. "How I Roll" is a thrilling digital workout penned mainly by Bloodshy & Avant (they did "Toxic" and "Piece of Me") which you could describe as ghetto-Nordic, via MIA. It sounds like a sweet come hither soundtracked by a shop full of digital toys, until the line "You could be my fuck tonight" reaffirms the thematic status quo.

Dancing has rarely been a more obvious referent for sex standing up than on Femme Fatale. "I Wanna Go" is all hi-NRG booty calling, with a possible reference to New Order's "Blue Monday" thrown in. But it's not just Britney with her hands in the air. American pop seems to have caught a wholesale case of European rave pox. For the past decade, Stateside pop has more or less equated with mass-market R&B, tweaked by frequently Scandinavian auteurs employing hip-hop production techniques.

Of late, though, the steady tish-tish of continental dance music – inaugurated, arguably, by Madonna's Confessions on a Dancefloor (2005) – has turned into an all-out all-nighter.

Synth stabs, techno builds, house pianos and Ibizan dynamics have conjoined with high-end digital production to create a new hybrid pop. The Black Eyed Peas have been movers in the field, linking up with French dance producer David Guetta on various tracks. Curiously enough, though, the token track on Femme Fatale is the most old-school work here, a deeply silly chant-along in which Britney declares she "could be the trouble" and "you could be the bass" ("Big Fat Bass"). Do you see what they did there? The bass, of course, grows ever more tumescent.

"Gasoline", meanwhile, offers an extended petrol metaphor for desire in which the line "my heart only runs on supreme" should be commended. It would be tempting at this point to say that Britney is on fire, having turned in the "fierce dance record" she promised. But let's just say: she's hot to trot.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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