Britney's music has always hinged on the talents of those crafting the songs, and this rings truer now than ever. The teams involved know that if their slack falls, Britney will not have what it takes to pick it up - which in turn pushes them to ensure the songwriting remains catchy and the production stays flawless. It's risky business, but it's one which had continued to pay off for her Weaveness for the past 10 years. The name of the game is very much still the same all these years on. But the formula feels strongly diluted. Rather than write out a new chapter in the history of pop for the badly weaved pop star, her team of songwriters and producers seem content with just having her footnoted at the bottom of another stars' page. You can only write history so many times. But is Britney really okay with sounding like everybody else when she used to set the musical trends within pop? I doubt she cares. She was barely involved with Femme fetale anyway. And on some songs you wonder whether Britney is singing or Hatsune Miku.
Lead single "Hold it against me" is a good song. It features a catchy chorus and a rather unconventional song structure. But UK and European club goers have probably heard this shit before. The gambit with this song (and no, it isn't purely the dubstep influences everybody gets raving about) is that a mainstream artist like Britney is on a record which is usually slung on some Ministry of sound Club nation double disc CD and enters the charts at 86. Britney sounds like she's firing on all cylinders at the start, but by the time the second run of the chorus comes in, you forget all about her because the tightness of the production is already catching your attention. And by the time the dubstep breakdown drops, you forget who was even singing the song. This is the problem with "Hold it against me". Britney doesn't own the song. She doesn't even matter. The instrumental is actually better than hearing Britney on it, because you can just appreciate how on point the production is and hear all the nuances of the music. Forgettable, but brilliantly produced.
"Till the world ends" is trash. I said all I needed to about the song here. Generic Ke$ha nonsense with a rubbish hook. It sounds like "We are who we R", only nowhere near as good. "Seal it with a kiss" once again has Dr. Luke push Britney into that glitter infested sand pit of Ke$ha's. However, unlike "Till the world ends", Britney manages to put more of her stamp on the song, and she actually sings on the chorus as opposed to being relegated in favour of a sample lifted from a FIFA soundbank. The song is cool and easy breezy, but it is seriously throwaway. Because once again Dr. Luke recycles some shit we've already heard Ke$ha do and do better. Britney not only gets Ke$ha scraps. But she gets some Katy Perry sounding ones too. Britney rides the beat eerily like that blue haired ho on "Trouble for me". But fortunately the song is decent and Britney sounds so good, that you do put that out of your head by the time the middle-eight hits. Fraser T. Smith gives Britney a song primed for radio, and even a little something for the clubs in the form of the Bodyrox inspired synths during the pre-hook. But yet again...throwaway in the long run.
The Max Martin production line thankfully churns out a good'un, which is namely because Dr. Luke is taken out of the mix. Britney uses Sean Preston's Transformer branded expendable grabber to snatch the Confessions and Fever wigs off of both Madonna and Kylie's heads in one fell swoop with "I wanna go". Britney goes pop, disco and Euro fist pumping dance all in song, and the result is pretty f**king amazing. If the disco stomping, guitar lick ridden intro and the ridiculously catchy whistle riff do nothing for you, then I can't help you. "I wanna go" is the first song on the album where we get that Max manufactured Britney emerging. A little high pitched, nasal, twangs on certain words; Marmite flow which you decided as to whether you loved or hated years ago when you first heard it during Britney's shimmy down a high school hallway. Max Martin's chemistry with Britney is still very much intact. And if you thought "If U seek Amy" and "3" were flukes, then prepare to be disappointed. He knows how to give Britney the hits, and "I wanna go" is absolute gold.
Britney gets all slinky and sexy for "Inside out", which comes courtesy of production newcomer Billboard. The music rolls like a kick and synth heavy 2011 version of Oops!..I did it again
"How I roll" is a playful ditty from frequent Britney collaborators Bloodshy, Henrick Jonback and new Bloodshy affiliated producer Magnus. It's pretty much a brighter chord progressive version of Blackout's "Freakshow". Which means this song is pretty much just Britney reciting how she wants a man's penis in her vagina over some hard hitting 808's and warbling basslines. Britney's delivery is deadpan and pretty muted. But Bloodshy and co's production keep things interesting throughout. One of the more interesting songs on the album because it doesn't sound like anything else in mainstream pop right now.
I know I'm going to be in the minority on what I'm about to say, but I don't completely hate the will.i.am produced "Big fat bass". In fact I kinda like it. It's not the strongest cut on the album, but it sits nicely within the tracklisting because it's complimented well by the songs which come either side of it. And even though will.i.am clearly tweaked Britney's vocals to the max, I like how she sounds because will.i.am's knob twidling gives Britney's vocals a nice clarity. will.i.am's production is still a little stale and his songwriting is an absolute joke. But this song features just enough to get into. Had will.i.am cut a minute or so off of this song and let Bonnie McKee, Tiffany Amber or Ester Dean at it with a pen and paper, we could have had something special here - because in places this song is pretty bad ass, and Britney plays the dance commander well.
"Trip to your heart" is the song Bloodshy & Avant tried to do for Circus' "Trouble", but failed at miserably. This is probably the closest we get to a soft love song on Femme fetale, and even this comes with lashings of synths, vocoders and auto-tune. Get it into your head now Godney followers: that "Everytime" Britney you loved back in 2003 is dead. Homegirl will not be dropping shit like that ever again. And even if she did, she'd be auto-tuned to the loony bin and back. "Trip to your heart" is a seductively sexy song. I hate the Disney-esque sweetness of the chorus. But the dark underground style synth work on the verses is bananas.
"Gasoline" is a nice surprise in the album, because it's the only song on the whole of Femme fetale which hearkens back to classic Britney - sounding like a cross between a Max Martin classic from back during the Oops!...I did it again hey day and "Toxic". It's one of the few songs on the album where Britney's vocals aren't smothered by every single vocal altering effect known to a studio engineer, and she sounds so good that you wonder why so many effects get put on her vocals in the first place. The song could have done with an extra lick of production though, as the music and lack of vocal production render the song a little stoic. But the simplicity of the song and that Britney sounds like she's back in the driver's seat without her baby on her lap is what gives it a real sense of charm. And it's rather refreshing to hear Britney on a song so stripped down. Yes. Even with all of the guitars, pitch wheeled basslines and channel hopping synths, "Gasoline" is stripped down by Femme fetale's standards. It's probably as stripped down as a Britney joint will ever get.
"Criminal" is the second song after "Gasoline" where Britney actually does sing. And she manages to do it about a subject matter of substance aside from wanting to get f**ked. It sounds very Madonna America life-y, and Max Martin completely jacked Danja's more folk based production style, as was exhibited on Nelly Furtado's "All good things (come to an end)", Duran Duran's "She's too much" and Madgina's "Miles away". But it's still a great song. It stands out like a sore thumb because no other song on the album sounds like it, but this is a large part of what makes it work and compliments the album. It does for Femme fetale what "Why should I be sad?" did for Blackout. This would make a great single, as it would completely blind-sight everyone after hearing a string of Britney singles which have all fallen into the dance-able pop bracket. Britney wouldn't even need to dance in the video, which would take pressure off of her crusty scalp.
The deluxe edition of Femme fetale features 4 bonus tracks. And whilst 3 of them do not fit in with Femme fetale's overarching sound and style, all 4 of bonus tracks give you more of Britney than you get across all 12 main tracks of the album.
"Up 'n down" see's Max Martin lacing Britney with a dirty 90's euro pop club banger, which borders extremely closely to ripping off Inner city's "Good life". But I'll be damned if this song is not some form of crack. Why this was relegated to being a bonus track, I have no clue. This song is strong enough to have been a lead single. "He about to lose me" is the ONLY song on Femme fatale where Britney's real voice comes through. Fans who missed Britney really crooning it up will be all over this song, because it's that bitch you've been missing since "Don't let me be the last to know". The hook features that age old Darkchild trick of featuring over dominant vocals from a miscellaneous vocalist on the hook, which overpowers the whole thing. It would have been nice to have had Britney sing them herself to truly own the song, or at least ad-lib over the top of them. But she sounds really good on the verses, and her vocals are what are sure to have fans fall for this song in a big way. "Don't keep me waiting" marks Rodney 'Darkchild' Jerkins' second bonus cut for Femme fetale and his second coupling with Britney to tag team on rock; with their first being for the cover of Joan Jett and the Blackhearts' "I love rock 'n roll". It's a cool departure for Britney, but this shit should have ended with the Circus bonus track "Rock boy". Britney and rock is just a no-no. The Stargate and Sandy Vee produced "Selfish" sounds like a leftover from Rihanna's Loud. There are moments in the song where you can hear "S&M" and expect the whole thing to switch into it. The most forgettable of the bonus tracks.
The bonus tracks are decent enough, but they do suffer structurally, in that all of them feature a really weak middle eight section. None of the songs on Femme fetale feature a strong middle eight with the exception of "Criminal", but they at the very least feature cool breakdowns and switches. The bonus tracks seem to just have the music flounder during the middle eight, with Britney singing a bunch of lines which just feel as though they were lazily written for the sake of having Britney sing something to fill a gap in the song.
Femme fetale (as with all of Britney's albums) features stellar production. Every kick, every snare, record scratch and beat drop is meticulously placed. But there is too much of an emphasis on giving Britney an album would would contend with what's hot right now - which is generic euro-dance club music, and Britney's albums have never been about following trends. Britney was always about being the vehicle of great pop songs, which would have every other female in the pop game trying to imitate. So for Femme fatale to have Britney being the imitator for half of the album: it hits a bum note. This leads into the issue of Femme fatale sounding far too samey in places. At least 5 songs on this album all employ the same trick of chopping up Britney’s vocals, stuttering them over the hook, and then reserving a section in the song 2 minutes and 40 seconds in where a snare drum reverbs, everything slows the f**k down and the beat begins to build itself up again under a filter which sounds like the music is playing underwater. I was tired of it by track 5.
Britney's engaging factor is also still an issue here. Britney still doesn't sell it well enough within the albums main 12 tracks that she's truly into the songs. There are occasions when she fakes it well. But I felt no more engaged with her on this album than her past two. Britney sounded like somebody using an Xbox live headset on Blackout. But the songs were more interesting to listen to because rhythmically Britney rode the beats better than she does here. Much of her vocals on Femme fatale stay within one range, rendering her monotone. At least on Blackout she went high and low with notes and ad-libbed. I still get chills when I hear that high and icy opening line of ♪ Everytime they turn the lights dooooooooooooown ♪ on "Gimme more". Nothing on Femme fetale hits me in that same way. Britney's vocals are also chopped to shreds like they were given to a China man chef with a cleaver. You wonder whether Britney sang whole songs, or if she just sang 4 syllables and had the studio engineer tweak them into words and pitch correct them to match the key of the music. With Dr. Luke then throwing some dollar at Bonnie McKee and telling her he'll do her whole album if she does back-up on every one of Britney's songs and doesn't argue. Britney has lost that spark she use to have on songs. And trust the 4 songs where Britney does semi-engage to be bonus tracks which aren't included on every SKU of the album.
Despite Britney claiming this is her most mature album to date, ain't a damn thing mature about it. In fact, this is probably Britney's most juvenile release to date. Every song is about sex in some form, with open declarations of how much of a freak Britney is. Even on "Criminal", Britney is pretty much saying she's with a no good dude because he puts that willy on her so good in the sack, and hits it from the front to the back (♪ It's not rationowl, it's physicowl ♪). At least on Oops!...I did it again we got some varied subject matters rolling around. Living in the spotlight unhappily ("Lucky"), being able to survive a breakup from a dead beat ("Stronger") and being a prick tease ("Oops!...I did it again"). There are many different ways you can write a song about being a freak in the club, but every songwriter on Femme fatale seems to have gone about it the exact same way.
Femme fetale seemed geared from the start to service clubs and keep you on your feet from start to finish, but this seems to have been done at the expense of giving us Britney classics with long lasting appeal. A major gambit of Britney's was that she always dropped pop smashes that no other chick could replicate because her voice was so distinctive. And she always reigned a style which wasn't following a chart trend, yet was still able to sit nicely alongside what everybody else was doing at the time. Femme fatale is just an album full of what we've been hearing over the past 3 years. You've heard "Till the world ends" before. You've heard "Big fat bass before". You've heard "Drop dead (Beautiful)" before. And for all of the praise of how "Hold it against me" sounds different, there have been many dance records from European DJ's and producers who did that whole sound long before Max, Luke and Mathieu gave it to Britney. And as for drum 'n bass and dubstep influences being a part of a pop record; go check out J-Pop artist MiChi. Her shit was on this swag 2 years ago! And Girls aloud touched on it with their debut single "Sound of the underground" back in 2003. Of course, the terms 'cutting edge', 'fresh' and 'new' are only being applied because Britney's name is attached to the songs.
Much of Femme fatale is interchangeable. The songs would sound no worse off they were given to Ke$ha, Katy, Rihanna or Sky Ferriera. In fact, they'd probably sound better. Britney's material shouldn't be sounding like Katy and Ke$ha leftovers. Not when Britney was 9 years deep into her career and breaking records before Katy and Ke$ha were sucking Dr. Luke's dick to get a record deal. Yet here we are, with an album where half of the songs sound like theirs.
This is Britney's most cohesive album in terms of sound and flow since Blackout. But is it better? Femme fatale is Britney's loudest and most danceable album to date, but it is her most disposable. A couple of songs on this album are smashes, and aside from "Till the world ends", there is not a flat out rubbish song. But as a whole what we have here is an album that will get played to death now, but relegated in favour of another Britney album because it featured better and more timeless songs. I love "I wanna go" to pieces. But I can already envision myself getting sick of it within a couple of months. "Criminal" will probably end up being the only song from this album which will stand the test of time and sound as great in 4 years as it does now. But for as great the song is, it will always get coupled with how much it sounds like a song from Madonna's American life or that song that Chris Martin wrote for Nelly Furtado.
Femme fatale is a fun ride whilst it lasts, but it does not have the same amount of mileage that Blackout had. If I had to describe this album in one sentence, it would be: Generic, with occasional flecks of genius - none of which is down to Britney herself.
■ Inside out
■ I wanna go ★ J's fave
■ How I roll
■ Trip to your heart
■ Up 'n down