Album review: Britney Spears - Britney

Album review: Britney Spears - Britney | Random J Pop

Britney in the late 90s to early 2000s was a freight train. She came out of nowhere, broke all the records, was a standard and became a part of pop music history with just two albums. But the whole time Britney was securing hits and bags, she was also growing up and out-growing the sound that made her. And the formula that was now evident couldn't just be trotted out for a third album outright. So her third studio album had to account for this, whilst being an experiment in seeing what Britney could get away with. Oh, and there was also a film that Britney was the lead in. So it had to be a bit of a soundtrack too. And if the album had to be a soundtrack to a Britney film, then it was gonna need typical ass Britney songs. So what you end up with is an album being pulled in multiple directions and being a little bit of mess, whilst also doing something so remarkable that you can't really write it off.

Album review: Britney Spears - Britney | Random J Pop

"I'm a Slave 4 U".

This song could be seen as a huge risk given that Britney's previous lead singles were Max Martin productions that stuck to a formula which had clearly worked for Britney and defined her and an entire era of pop. To go from that to a song produced by a duo that nobody outside of Hip-Hop and R&B knew was a gamble. But at the same time, this was Britney fucking Spears. No matter what she put out at this point in her career, it would have landed somehow. And going with "I'm a Slave 4 U" was smart, because it's an absolute banger, and to this day is one of Britney's best songs. "I'm a Slave 4 U" changed the course of Britney's sound to such a degree, that every album which came after Britney would nod to it in some way. It was also the push that made R&B and Hip-Hop heads who were closeted Britney fans finally kick the doors open on the bitch. With Britney being white and doing pop, everybody compared her to Madonna, but "I'm a Slave 4 U" was the song that made people see that a closer influence was in fact Janet Jackson. "I'm a Slave 4 U" made Britney cool in wider circles and gave clubs a Britney record they could finally play that would get everybody on the floor, as Britney had never released a song with a tempo like it before. The unfortunate thing about "I'm a Slave 4 U" was that aside from the song "Boys" (another Neptunes production) it wasn't flanked by material that did a good job of either supporting it or doing what it managed to do. This was a common thing with Neptunes productions at the time, because their sound was so different from everything else. 

Whilst "I'm a Slave 4 U" and "Boys" were refreshing deviations from what we'd heard Britney do before, this freshness isn't extended to the rest of the album, which is very much business as usual. Max Martin was back at it again, along with Rodney 'Darkchild' Jerkins who had also produced Britney's cover of The Rolling Stones "I Can't Get No (Satisfaction)" on Oops!... I Did It Again. The Darkchild sound was such a prominent fixture on the charts and radio during the late 90s and early 2000s that you would think Britney's team would have wanted her on it. But instead what we get are Darkchild takes on the Britney sound that was cultivated by Max Martin. Between The Neptunes turning Britney's sound on its head, and Rodney Jerkins copying Max Martin, the Max Martin songs barely stand out. The only one that does is "Overprotected", because it's the most (then) classic Britney sounding song on the album, with all of the hallmarks we got with "...Baby One More Time", "Oops!... I Did It Again" and "Stronger". It was such a missed opportunity to have Britney on the quintessential Darkchild sound or a version of it. If Jive were going to say 'Fuck it' and have The Neptunes do what they do with Britney, they may as well have said 'Fuck it' and had Rodney Jerkins do the same. Max Martin was always on-board to cut for this album, so they had the safety net of his songs in the event that The Neptunes and Darkchild went too far in one direction. It's truly baffling to me. Especially given that Jive records took a Max Martin song and had Rodney Jerkins remix the damn thing in his own style for a single anyway. I just don't understand. And this is how I feel about this album in general. A case of lots of decisions that just make no actual sense, within a situation that's so clear.

Album review: Britney Spears - Britney | Random J Pop

Britney feels like a jukebox of songs, which is partly due to it doubling as the soundtrack somewhat to Britney's debut movie Crossroads. But unlike an album such as Mariah Carey's Glitter (don't laugh), there is no real consistency. Britney pitches and yaws between fresh hard-hitting bangers, sickly sweet Pop, a ballad, and then your typical Britney and Max Martin jams. All of these things can co-exist, and they just about manage to here. But it seems that all of the producers involved got given a different brief. The Neptunes were told to just do what they're known for, because they wanted Britney to cross over 'to the hood'. Max Martin was told to just do what he does, because that's what's been working. Then Rodney Jerkins was told to just copy Max Martin, because fuck knows why. And we get a song co-written and co-produced by Justin Timberlake to cash in on them being a couple at the time. It makes for a really strange listening experience when you play the album from top to bottom, because you can literally hear the pivots between the different types of songs. From "I'm a Slave 4 U", to "Overprotected", to "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman" and this is just within the first four tracks.

Britney was positioned as Britney's growing up album, because she wasn't going to be able to do kids bops forever, and she had to be setup in order to do albums which could exist outside of that. And this is the one consistent theme on this album, which is best conveyed in the songs "Overprotected" and "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman". But one of the additional problems here is that Britney herself was past the point of the narrative that Jive records wanted her to tell through her music. Britney was supposed to be this album which chronicled Britney growing into her adulthood, but Britney was kinda already there. Britney was still young at the time of the albums' release, but still a type of grown. More grown than some of the songs let on. More grown than she was on Oops!... I Did It Again. And yet two thirds of the album sounded like they could have been on Oops!... I Did It Again. But then, you have a song like "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman". So the album ends up being a mix of songs of where Britney should be, songs of where Britney once was, and songs of where Jive wanted to place Britney at the time. So the sensationalism around Britney being too pop, too sexy, too this, too that was mirrored in the music. But I don't think it was by design. I think Jive themselves had no idea what to do with Britney at this point musically, who clearly had a better idea of how she wanted to be portrayed than they did, which she exercised on the follow up In The Zone. Jive records knew that sex sells, so they pushed that. But they also knew teeny bops was where the money was, so they pushed that too. But then the coming of age story of Crossroads innit, so we need those types of songs too. This is definitely more of a Jive records problems than a Britney one, as ★NSYNC's Celebrity album ended up the exact same way, and shared many of the same producers. Jive wanted to show that they're hot, they're hip and that their pop acts can deliver songs that will get spins on urban radio. After all, they had a larger roster of R&B acts than pop back in the early 2000s. So it's a market they already had a hand in. But then they also didn't want to let go of the sounds that were responsible for Britney and ★NSYNC's successes. So the result was patchy albums with an iffy rollout of singles which just highlighted the conflict of interests between the label and the artists themselves.

Album review: Britney Spears - Britney | Random J Pop

Another issue with Britney is that may have a little too soon. I get why it did. Britney was a juggernaut of which pop hadn't seen in a while. She hit a level of success that I don't think even Jive records were prepared for, and neither was Britney. So the iron was struck whilst it was at its hottest. Capitalising on that with an album which came little over a year after her last to coincide with a movie release was a good business decision, even if it was a wonky one artistically. But I can't say the Britney album is a waste or that it shouldn't have been released, and that's because of the likes of "I'm a Slave 4 U". It's more than just me thinking the song is amazing, which it is. The impact of this song cannot be overstated enough. It's what defines the album. Even if you don't know any of the other songs on it, you know "I'm a Slave 4 U". And as already mentioned, it set the course for what was to come next.

It's a real shame, because there are great songs on this album. But as a body of work, it's forgettable because there are so few songs that really punch. "I'm a Slave 4 U" sits unto itself due to how it broadened Britney's fanbase, and created a new foundation of a Britney sound. And the fact that it was just so original sonically for its time, and still sounds as such now even in the wake of so many imitations. Then there's "Overprotected" and "Boys". Two great songs which were released as singles in remix forms which paled greatly in comparison to the album versions. It's weird that the remix of "Boys" features on the Austin Powers soundtrack, when the original version of the song is the one that's in the film. And then there's "Anticipating" which is one of Britney's best songs, yet wasn't made an official promotional single, and gets completely lost in Britney's discography as a whole.

Album review: Britney Spears - Britney | Random J Pop

The execution of Britney is janky. It features a couple of great songs, which also happen to be Britney's best. But the sounds of the majority of songs on this album meld together in such a way that they become difficult to distinguish from one another. This shouldn't have been the case with a production roster consisting of The Neptunes, Rodney Jerkins and Max Martin. I still do not get why this album had Rodney Jerkins trying to do Max Martin's sound, and Max Martin trying to do Rodney Jerkins' and Ske'spere's sound. It makes zero sense to me. And then there are the song topics, which are all pushing the narrative of a girl growing into her womanhood, but they're very rinse and repeat, just as the production is. None of these songs paint pictures and create whole worlds for Britney in the way some of her previous songs did, even with one of them literally using the theme of Cinderella. The potency of the formula that made ...Baby One More Time and Oops!... I Did It Again work is lessened on Britney because you can see and hear the formula at work. This is what made pairing Britney with The Neptunes genius, because it said 'Fuck the formula'. But with this energy confined to just two to three songs, the rest of the album is robbed of more of what it needed. And this is Britney. An album which just feels overwhelmingly lacking, when it should and could have been one of her most exciting.


Album highlights:
■ I'm A Slave 4 U🏆 J's fave
■ Overprotected
■ Anticipating