The nasty custody battle. The hair-razing meltdown. The trips to rehab. The abysmal VMAs performance. Shall we go on? All of 25-year-old Britney Spears’ recent setbacks suggest that her fifth CD, ominously titled Blackout, would fan the flames of her hot mess of a year. Well, brace yourself for the biggest shock yet: Blackout — a collection of well-produced, thoroughly enjoyable dance songs — may just put this once-celebrated pop star back on top.
Spears has always been a performer who’s valued image over creative output. It’s interesting, then, that periods of introspection — albeit those penned primarily by hired hands — yield Blackout‘s finest moments. ”Piece of Me,” produced by Bloodshy & Avant (”Toxic”), is a rump shaker that finds Spears venting: ”I’m Mrs. most likely to get on the TV for slippin’ on the street when getting the groceries/Now, for real, are you kidding me?” Later, on ”Toy Soldier” — another fiery B&A creation, which echoes the sass and substance of ”Soldier” by Destiny’s Child — she blasts ”weak” tomcats (like K-Fed?) to the beat of a lively military drumroll.
For the most part, Spears puts up a brave front by relishing her newfound independence. That is, until a chink in her armor appears on the heavy-hearted closer, ”Why Should I Be Sad.” Produced by the Neptunes and written by Pharrell Williams for Spears, it’s a deeply personal, midtempo groove — the closest thing to a ballad on Blackout — that unfolds like an open letter to her babies’ daddy. ”I sent you to Vegas with a pocket full of paper and with no ultimatums on you/I thought, What could separate us,” she sings. ”But it just seemed that Vegas only brought the playa out of you.”
Of course, we know all too well that Spears has a little playa in her, too. So it’s no surprise that she flaunts her fondness for late-night carousing on fluffy dance tracks. Take the ubiquitous ”Gimme More” or the shameless ”Freakshow” (co-written by Spears), where she coos, ”I’m bout to shake my ass/Snatch that boy so fast/Make dem other bitches mad.” Her seemingly insatiable libido is likewise the driving force behind Blackout‘s preponderance of breathy come-ons, such as ”Get Naked (I Got a Plan),” ”Perfect Lover,” and ”Ooh Ooh Baby,” which she also helped to write.
Poetry it’s not. Still, there is something delightfully escapist about Blackout, a perfectly serviceable dance album abundant in the kind of bouncy electro elements that buttressed her hottest hits (”I’m a Slave 4 U,” ”Toxic”). Say what you will about Spears’ personal life, but there’s no denying that the girl knows how to have a good time. B+
DOWNLOAD THIS: Hear ”Heaven on Earth” and the entire Blackout album at VH1.com