If Britney Spears’ eighth album is what happens when the real Spears stands up, she might as well sit back down. When Spears promised a highly “personal” break-up album, the pitch seemed unlikely coming from modern electro-pop’s vaguest avatar, then unlikelier still when the lead single turned out to be a will.i.am-produced Identikit banger titled, touchingly, “Work Bitch”.
But it’s still depressing to find more of the disco-tooled super-producer same here, allied to faintly atypical ballads that, nonetheless, add little to Spears’s synthetic sex-doll sheen.
“Alien” is the best of her multi-producer alliances, but it inevitably echoes its producer William Orbit’s work on Madonna’s Ray of Light, tossing the lyric “There was a time when I was one of a kind” into sorry perspective.
Elsewhere, EDM (that’s electronic dance music to the uninitiated) bromides, better deployed on Lady Gaga’s recent Artpop album, deaden any distinguishing features like aural Botox. “Body Ache” is a disembodied ear-ache, “It Should be Easy” a reiteration of old Brit-bot vocal tricks that further diminishes her presence with the lyric “If I lost you, I would lose myself”.
That lost-lover persona extends to the ballad “Perfume”, where Spears undercuts the use of her untreated, needling voice by painting herself as love’s passive passenger. “Passenger” revisits that self-image, words yielding no surprises here: any fool knows that “You never know what you’ve got” completes the lyric of “Til it’s Gone”.
Spears’s self-erasure is the cumulative effect, summed up when “Don’t Cry” asks, “Love is gone, what else am I?” After an album this parched of personality, who knows?