It appears the everlasting showstopper/glorified dancing girl is bouncing two steps forward, a half step back, and remaining unscathed whilst glittered and painted head-to-toe. Does this missing evolutionary link betwixt Blackout and Circus really pool together the pop star’s greatest strengths? Is it safe to like sugary, danceable synth-pop when left in the hands of a manufactured figurehead princess? All signs point to “yes”.
Femme Fatale has been given critical OKs in the midst of an era that embraces Ke$ha, so take that with a grain of Wendy’s-approved sea salt (ah, modern times). This is not some impromptu comeback special like Circus, wherein Spears deviated from overproduced Blackout techno to appear matured and well-kept (not to mention sane). This is a legitimate attempt to forge a natural progression between Spears’ last two records, all the while maintaining her refurbished and reverberating persona.
The record kicks off with two dance-inducing singles, “Till The World Ends” and “Hold It Against Me”, both drawing power from Montreal producer Billboard (Ke$ha’s Cannibal EP, Adam Lambert’s For Your Entertainment). Billboard lends credibility and curiosity to those wondering whether Spears was aiming for juicy positivity on the floor, or merely staying with the times. The singles are extraordinarily infectious, as is “Inside Out”, which slows the tempo, simultaneously sending Spears back to basics vocally, and into 2011 sonically.
“I Wanna Go” and ’80s/Ke$ha-infused Billboard co-production “(Drop Dead) Beautiful” brings Dirty Vegas memories, plus phoning in that Far East Movement “Like A G6” backing track would have been put to better use with Spears’ producers. “How I Roll” gets stuck amidst chunky dub, eclectic loops, and a ridiculously kitschy chorus, leaving even the guiltiest of those who cherish Spears in some state of indecision.
Further pushing that anti-accolade are the lame duck “Seal It With A Kiss”, and Will.i.am-handled house track “Big Fat Bass”, the latter of which might as well be a B-side to “The Time (Dirty Bit)” (otherwise known as the most annoying Black Eyed Peas song ever created). Honestly, one can overlook the former track completely, thanks to the latter’s sheer terrible totality, an example of why songs with a single, almost-cleverly-cute repeated lyric (“I can be the treble baby, you can be the bass”) can reduce a fractionally decent concept to utter drivel.
Thankfully, Femme Fatale is entirely rescued by backtracking to Circus-style material, with Rihanna-esque “Gasoline”, and the Ray Of Light-era Madonna influence in closing song “Criminal”. Who’d have thought that “Criminal” would also harken back to Coolio’s “I’m In Love With A Gangsta”, in terms of subject matter? Not the usual tag for the busty blond from the Mickey Mouse Club, but there’s a first time for everything. How Timberlake of her.
Spears and her fans needed this record. Pop music needed this record. It’s engaging, and, in pulling the best elements from her past two efforts, Spears and her production crew built a purely blissful account of currently-trending tunes. This totally makes up for botching that Bobby Brown cover.