Britney’s new single, the first track to surface from her upcoming seventh album, leaked today, and on it she sounds stronger than several thousand yesterdays. “Hold It Against Me” is prime Britney, all aggressive electro jitters, with a weird breakdown in the middle where Brit moans, blows kisses, and snaps her gum over Dr. Luke’s glitchy synth blurts. The lyrics are in Austin Powers/Benny Hill territory: “If I said I want your body now / Would you hold it against me?”
And it comes right on the heels of Rihanna’s single "S&M," which revived the similarly creaky pickup line, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but whips and chains excite me.” At this point it’s just a matter of time before Lady Gaga returns with her comeback single, “Do You Have Any Italian In You? (Would You Like Some?).”
Musically, “Hold It Against Me” sounds a lot like what Britney was doing on her 2007 gem Blackout, perhaps the most influential pop album of the past five years. (As I’ve argued here.) But then everybody else in the music world is biting Blackout these days, so why shouldn’t Britney? When she was entering her darkest period in terms of her personal life, while much of the world was writing her off as a joke, she was also releasing her most innovative music, going for distorto-rama robot-disco propulsion and alienated synth-gloom ambience. It’s funny how people underrate Brit’s impact on the way music sounds now, just because her personality gets in the way, but if you listen to an hour of pop radio today, you’ll hear an hour of people trying to top Blackout. It was her FunYuns-and-Red Bull version of Kid A.
“Hold It Against Me” has an over-the-top club sound, as Britney prowls the floor looking for a man who will satisfy her needs and sign her non-disclosure waiver. “Would you hold it against me?” — how many times has she used that line on the cops? Old-school respect to the Bellamy Brothers, the Seventies country duo whose classic "If I Said You Have a Beautiful Body Would You Hold It Against Me" topped the Nashville charts for three weeks back in 1979. It isn’t hard to hear a tinge of desperation in Brit’s digitally processed growl, especially when she strains to hit the line, “You feel like paradise and I need a vacation tonight.” (Eddie Money, this could be your lucky evening.) Meanwhile, Dr. Luke’s Euro-cheese club synths tap out a riff that sounds exactly like AC/DC’s headbanger classic “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” (especially from 1:02 to 1:08) — which is totally the kind of joke he’d slip in. Maybe for the album she’ll go all out and cover “Dirty Deeds,” or maybe “Problem Child”? “Big Balls”? “Touch Too Much”? Shoot to thrill, Britney!
Britney lead-off singles are a genre unto themselves, of course. Brit usually likes to hold back the poppiest material and lead off with something thematic, such as “I’m a Slave 4 U,” “Womanizer,” or “3.” For Blackout, she sent “Gimme More” out there first instead of the superior “Piece of Me,” and for In the Zone the first single was the generic “Me Against the Music” instead of the mind-boggling “Toxic.” “Hold It Against Me” is much better than “Gimme More,” not as great as “3,” about even with “Womanizer.” And it definitely promises great things for her album — aside from the overall jaw-drop factor that Britney has hung in there to make a seventh album at all. SlimJim-tinis all around!