Jive Records, 2011
REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/31/2011
It’s funny, because I’m at the tender age of 25 I’m going to sound like an old crank yelling at a cloud…but ten years ago Britney Spears was a huge star and I don’t think we remember it all that well dangnabit!
Sure, a wide range of mental disorders, drugs, divorces, and general reality TV show star behavior may have clouded our collective memories, but Miss Spears was selling records like hotcakes on her way to becoming one of the biggest selling female artists of all time. Whatever your thought on her legitimate talents, getting to that plateau must mean she was doing something right. She was the trendsetter, and everyone else was simply in her wake.
If we are laying all the cards on the table, I will be the first to admit that I have listened to practically nothing of Spears’ catalogue from about 2001 on. There was a time and a place for her, but after a certain point it behooved me to move on. So listening to Femme Fatale about ten times was interesting, merely to see just what Brit Brit was doing in 2011.
These days, it seems all the attention falls on your Lady Gagas, or your Keshas (I really, really don’t want to put the $ in there). Hell, a song from a teen girl about how awesome Friday is will get you 35 million views on YouTube. The “talents” one may have thought Spears possessed sure seem available to any aspiring young female musician. What really surprised me while listening to Femme Fatale was how modern everything sounded. “Hit Me Baby One More Time” this is not.
Lady Gaga’s strong stances and personalities are what have made her such a fascinating individual, and consequently have given her albums more substance. Britney was never all that interesting of a story, and was only controversial for shaving her head and getting dumped via text message. There’s a distinct lack of danger/importance to Femme Fatale: Britney is just hear to make you get up and dance, which is rather smart on her part. Were she to show up at the Grammy’s in a giant egg and make drag queen puns in her lyrics, she would be crucified or mocked incessantly. Trying to reshape her image at this stage of the game would be a foolish endeavor.
Having never been present at the recording of a Britney Spears album, I cannot attest to how much power she wields with regards to production choices and songwriting. The credits for Femme Fatale would seem to imply she has none, but given how long she has been in the industry I refuse to believe she takes a backseat to anyone. That makes attributing credit for the overall success of Femme Fatale a little easier.
Much as this reviewer would care to delve into a deep, thematic analysis of the female condition as represented by Femme Fatale, there comes a point when one has to ask a simple question: are the songs catchy? That’s all that Miss Spears has ever tried to do, and reading her various statements about this album seem to follow a similar theme: “I want to make music for people to dance to at the clubs.”
The two tracks leading off the disc are perfect fodder for 97 different people to come in and remix until there is practically nothing left of the original song. That may sound like a negative, but for this scene it’s essential. That means at the core you have incredibly strong beats and a hook that will be on repeat in your head for a week. Those two things are something that have never difficult for Spears and Co. to manufacture, and “Til The World Ends,” and “Hold It Against Me” stand on their own two feet against the best of the pop scene today.
I was appreciative of how Femme Fatale keeps the momentum going from start to finish: no ballads anywhere to be found. Really, the only track that would be considered along the lines of a “traditional” Spears song would be the closing track “Criminal” (there’s a flute present!). The general concept behind the album is serviced quite well; however, the same cannot be said for the execution. A lackluster dance track is still boring, no matter how many effects and auto tuned vocals are thrown on top of it. My own, personal dislike for will.i.am wasn’t alleviated by his presence on “Big Fat Bass,” which really could have been stolen from whatever slop The Black Eyed Peas are putting out these days.
Say this for Femme Fatale: you can certainly dance to it. In that way Spears succeeded, and honestly I was shocked at how relevant this record came across. While it’s clear that Britney isn’t trying for anything new and playing off the tricks that others are coming up with these days, she is remarkably adept at using them. This is one of those records I came in expecting nothing from, and finding a couple gems in the rough. Sorry for doubting you, Britney.