2 stars (out of 4)
Britney Spears' 8th studio album, and the first released since the one-time teen-pop princess turned 30 in 2011, presumably reflects her life in the wake of divorce, motherhood and the recent break-up with her fiance Jason Trawick.
The hype about her most "personal" album yet begins with the album title, "Britney Jean" (RCA), which promotes a sense of intimacy that the songs never quite deliver. Though Spears gets a songwriting credit on all 10 songs, the lyrics aren't particularly revealing. That's because most of them are committee efforts in keeping with the franchise-like feel of all Spears albums. Nine songwriters alone are credited on "Body Ache," an embarrassment of cliches ("I know you feel my fire / Draw you into my flame").
An army of producers, including will.i.am, Diplo, Dr. Luke and David Guetta aim to keep Spears centered in the hit parade, but don't take many chances. The middle of the album is larded with standard-issue dance pop laced with electronic-dance and disco signifiers: prancing keyboards, belching synthesizers, squelchy synths. Spears' vocals are processed into a series of android coos and sighs – which would seem to contradict the album's "meet the real Britney" premise all by itself.
The skimpy 36-minute album further lightens Spears' workload on the rap-flavored "Tik Tik Boom," with T.I. doing most of the work, and Spears' younger sister, Jamie Lynn, sharing vocals on the electro-folk "Chillin' With You." Yet Spears remains a reliable singles machine; her juggernaut has brought out some of the best work in the last decade by producers such as Pharrell Williams and Bloodshy & Avant. On "Alien," she collaborates with William Orbit to create a light, airy slice of melancholic dance-pop, reminiscent of Madonna's Orbit-produced "Ray of Light" album. It's the one song that presents Spears in a more vulnerable and, yes, personal setting.
But as with all things Britney, getting personal isn't the point. Selling a persona is. About the only deeper subtext is provided by the track "Perfume," an appropriate title for a pop star who has released as many fragrance lines in the last decade as she has studio albums.