You ever notice that it's much more fun to talk about Britney Spears than to listen to her? As an artist (and that term is used very loosely), she gives audiences banal, dry, teen pop and gussies it up with a shiny, enticing sheen -- the musical equivalent of slathering honey on a rice cake. She cavorts in half-shirts, hip-huggers, bikini tops -- anything to keep attention off her hollow material and on her award-winning midriff. This explains why she's such a walking conversation piece; with the exception of Madonna, there hasn't been a mainstream music sensation whose manipulation as a pop entity was so plainly apparent.
Britney is supposed to be her big "grown-up" album, full of I-will-survive declarations, sexcapades and other young-adult yuks. But those of you who crave the passive, pandering Spears of yesteryear (okay, yestermonth) can rest assured that ain't a damn thing changed. Spears has just hired a few new hands to give her candy-coated spiel the appearance of evolution.
The biggest attraction on Britney, from a strictly musical point of view, isn't the diva herself, but hot-property producers the Neptunes. They drop their patented, spirited beats on two songs, "I'm a Slave 4 U" and "Boys," the latter of which sounds like the producers reused their infamous bass line from Ol' Dirty Bastard's "Got Your Money." The Neptunes-produced tracks, with their jolts of brazen hedonism, are easily the most mature on the whole album. At least these two tunes give the impression that Spears is looking to quash her talk-is-cheap shtick and dying to break some rules.
Unfortunately, the remainder of the album doesn't give her that opportunity. The tracks produced by Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins, the same wunderkind badass who made the Spice Girls sound erotically with-it on last year's single "Holler," are shockingly subdued. And collaborating with her old bubblegum wrappers Max Martin and Wade Robson doesn't help her postadolescent makeover much.
Although Spears takes every opportunity here to proclaim that a) she's not a little girl anymore, and b) she shouldn't be treated as such, these pouty declarations ultimately make her sound like a whiny yet tantalizing brat -- Veruca Salt trapped in the body of Jenna Jameson. Spears wants so much to be respected, only she forgot to create an album full of honest, substantial music that could earn her this acclaim. It's still the same ol' pop pap that will keep her locked in the annals of top-selling fraudulence, right next to Richard Nixon, Kathie Lee Gifford and Spam.
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Spears should either hook up with better producers like the Neptunes more often (with Aaliyah's untimely passing, Timbaland needs a new muse) or just start a new career in hard-core porn. You'd be surprised how many people would respect her more if she did one or the other.