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Britney Jean, out on Nov. 29, is an album of “firsts” for pop icon Britney Spears. It’s her first studio release under RCA Records, following the dissolution of Jive Records; it’s the first production to come of the singer’s thirties (Spears turns 32 on Dec. 2); and Britney Jean, touted as her “most personal record yet,” may be her first album boasted for lyrical content, rather than vocal flair.
While critics and fans are buzzing now, Britney Jean wasn’t as heavily promoted as her past productions. Perhaps RCA felt Spears’ eighth studio album would build hype on its own merits, by including popular guest features — will.i.am, T.I. and little sister Jaime Lynn — and early singles like “Perfume” and “Work Bitch,” which made the No. 12 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart following its debut on Sept. 17.
Whatever the reason, Britney Jean has still managed to get audiences talking, drawing mixed reviews as critics wonder what, if anything, about Spears’ latest release is quite so “personal” as she insists. Fortunately, she’ll have plenty of opportunities to answer that question between sets in the coming days. The singer will preform Britney Spears: Piece of Me in 16 residency shows at Las Vegas’ Planet Hollywood Resort from Dec. 27 through Feb. 22.
Until then, here’s what the critics are saying:
Despite Spears’ claims, Billboard’s Jason Lipshutz contends that her latest album is “more of an experiment than an autobiography.” Like her third record, Britney Jean bears the markings of a “transitional album,” reflecting the artist’s “subtle shift away from frantic bangers and into more forthcoming songwriting.” That seeming “displacement” earned Britney Jean a 76 out of 100 score.
Where Lipshutz saw transience, however, Rolling Stone’s Rob Sheffield noted theme, describing Britney Jean as a “concept album about the loneliness of pop life.” Sad, rhythmic and weird enough to make “Yeezus sound like a positive-affirmations workshop,” Spears’ album easily distinguishes itself from this winter’s pop runners. Adds Sheffield: “Britney remains the queen who out-bangs, out-booms, out-bizarres them all.”
“Britney Jean is about as personal as an airline pre-boarding announcement,” jokes the New York Times’ Jon Pareles. The singer’s latest album gives listeners the “fun” they’ve come to expect — yet Parceles finds that “the calculation stays obvious.” Lyrically, Britney Jean lumps the pop star’s standard themes “with no personalizing details,” but “the bigger letdown is that the music has lost its snap.”
Maybe “personal” was the wrong word to describe Britney Jean, but “the album certainly amps up the vulnerability in its opening moments,” the LA Times’ Todd Martens says. Contemplative tracks like “Alien” set a tone that’s “bright and airy … confident without being boastful,” and “foretells an album that, at least on first listen, is going to ricochet between emotional deep ends.”
The Guardian’s Michael Cragg, put off by Spears’ “completely misplaced” proclamations about her album’s “personal” nuance, gave Britney Jean two out of five stars. The record fluctuates between “deeply impersonal” tracks and “emotion-sapping EDM stompers,” Cragg vents, lamenting how even “Don’t Cry,” the artist’s “best vocal since ‘Everyone’ — frustratingly only hints at what could have been.”
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