Britney Spears has been promising that her new album, “Britney Jean,” is her “most personal album ever” since July, when she first tweeted the phrase. Fans might have hoped for a candid look at a turbulent life: child stardom as a Mouseketeer, reinvention as a teenage tease and then a trashy sex symbol, marriages, motherhood, public meltdowns, stints in rehab and her rebound as a hitmaker, a judge on “The X Factor” and, at the end of December, a performer starting a two-year residency in Las Vegas.
This week, Ms. Spears unveiled “Britney Jean” as an official iTunes stream ahead of its planned release date on Tuesday. And it turns out that “Britney Jean” is about as personal as an airline preboarding announcement.
“Britney Jean” arrives after three albums full of electronic sizzle and mind games. On “Blackout,” from 2007, and “Circus,” from 2008, songs leveraged Ms. Spears’ own tabloid fame for taunts and counterattacks, playing on public fascination without giving away any secrets. “Femme Fatale,” from 2011, after some years of damage control, concentrated on dancing and romance, but made the production even more dizzying. Ms. Spears and her many producers created a persona that was insolent, unrepentant and equally knowing about media manipulation and studio gimmickry. Sure, it was brazenly artificial, but it was also vibrant, and it held a multitude of cultural implications about desire, technology, stardom and pop calculation.
The fun leaches out while the calculation stays obvious on “Britney Jean.” The lyrics touch Ms. Spears’s usual bases — love, lust, dancing, success, breaking up — with no personalizing details. “If there was a scale from one to 10/on my love for you, it’s a million billion,” Ms. Spears sings in “It Should Be Easy.” A duet with her sister, Jamie Lynn Spears, “Chillin’ With You,” has Britney drinking red wine, Jamie drinking white, and both agreeing, “I had the time of my life.” The breakup song “Don’t Cry” vows, “This is gonna be our last goodbye/Our love is gone but I’ll survive.” No exposés here.
Every so often, Ms. Spears sings about insecurity — most dramatically in the single “Perfume,” a piano-driven trance-meets-pomp anthem written with Sia Furler, who has provided ardent hooks for dance, hip-hop and R&B hits. It starts with a good premise — before her boyfriend sees an ex-girlfriend, she’s going to get the smell of her perfume on him, to “mark my territory” — and circles through it with rising anxiety. It’s a wonder that Ms. Spears, who has had a sideline marketing perfumes since 2004, and her brain trust didn’t come up with this tie-in earlier.( Collapse )