All "Work Bitch" and no play would make Britney a dull bitch. And who wants that? Nobody. So Britney's back in the game, brushing all the riffraff away from her pop throne. Even though we're in the middle of a pop-princess pileup this winter, with Miley, Katy, Gaga and more elbowing for room on the dance floor, Britney remains the queen who out-bangs, out-booms, out-bizarres them all.
Britney Jean continues the roll she's been on in recent years – her 2007 glitch-disco manifesto, Blackout, is one of the most influential albums in modern pop, and 2008's Circus and 2011's Femme Fatale are in the same league. In fact, you can split Britney's career into pre-Blackout and post-Blackout halves, and you've got two of the all-time great pop careers. And she's still way weirder than she might seem on the surface – Britney Jean makes Yeezus sound like a positive-affirmations workshop.
Like her excellent late-summer electro-sleaze hit, "Work Bitch," Britney Jean adds up the high price of stardom. It's a concept album about the loneliness of pop life – with a high-profile broken engagement behind her, Brit gets personal and drops her most bummed-out music ever. If the title reminds you of Elton John weeping over Marilyn Monroe, figure it's meant to, because this poor girl has been getting way too much candle up in her wind lately.
"I always felt like a stranger in a crowd," she sings in the opening moments, her sad-robot voice filtered through layers of glam-droid Auto-Tune distortion. She goes sci-fi in "Alien," drifting through outer space looking for a home planet, over William Orbit synth bleeps.
"Perfume" is a strange torch ballad about a love triangle – she anoints her man with her own special Britney aroma (hopefully, her signature fragrance, Cosmic Radiance) so the other chick can smell the Britney on him.
With all the downbeat breakup songs, it takes her halfway through the album to start singing about making out. She gets with T.I. in the lackluster "Tik Tik Boom," which can't compare to her old Ying Yang Twins duet, "(I Got That) Boom Boom." "Body Ache" and "Til It's Gone" are the hardest dance bangers on the album, piling on the Euro-cheese bass.
She chants, "I wanna dance till my body ache," sounding so numb that the process might take a few weeks. Katy Perry co-wrote the ace power ballad "Passenger," which comes on like Brit's answer to Beyoncé's "Halo," as she emotes about finding someone to take the wheel and drive her home. (About damn time.) If you're a Britney fan, you might wish for more disco kicks – nothing here explodes like "How I Roll" or "I Wanna Go" or "3." And Will.i.am wears out his welcome fast after "Work Bitch."
But Britney Jean earns its Lifetime-movie stripes in "Chillin' With You," her long-awaited duet with baby sister Jamie Lynn. The Spears gals celebrate Kentwood Strong love, as Britney recalls the good times ("I drank some red wine, and now I'm walking on the sky") and chants, "When I'm witchoo, I'm chillin', I'm chillin'." Chill hard, Britney. You earned it.