There's a certain kind of irony that I find in having Britney and Kylie releasing their new albums within the same time period (at least internationally. We Americans have to wait for a while for Kylie's new disc), what with both ladies having been the subject of T-shirts worn by Madonna and both examples of global dance pop at its finest.
Kylie's disc is more tonally consistent, keeping it dark and pulsating. Initial single "Slow" is sultry and kinda retro while being squarely in the moment of 2003. "Chocolate" could be a smash, a sensual quiet storm of passion that vibes perfectly with U.S. pop radio, while "Secret" drops in a refrain from Lisa Lisa's "I Wonder If I Take You Home" that conducts a dance-pop dialogue across almost twenty years.
"I Feel For You" is a funky French disco-sounding track (not a Chaka Khan/Prince cover) that calls forth favorable comparisons to Cox 6 and Stardust. "Still Standing" is probably the finest track on the record, delivering a chorus so ridiculously catchy that to try and resist it is futile. A lot of Body Language feels like it could fit right into U.S. radio playlists, but that kind of adventurous spirit seems lacking in domestic radio programming, which is a shame.
Britney Spears - In the ZoneJive Records
Britney's record is a little more schizophrenic, spanning pop, dance ("Breathe On Me," which practically screams for an electroclash remix), R&B (the R. Kelly-penned "Outrageous"), hip-hop, dirty south rap ("I Got That (Boom Boom)," featuring the Ying-Yang Twins), bhangra (the remix of "Me Against the Music," "Toxic"), and power ballads. While the vibe is sexy (as usual with Ms. Spears, especially with "Touch of my Hand," which may join Divinyls' "I Touch Myself" and Wreckx-n-Effect's "Rump Shaker" as one of the songs most heard in strip clubs throughout the world), the end result feels like a fairly personal statement from Britney. She helped to co-write several of the songs, and In The Zone can't help but reflect the post-Justin Spears. "Everytime" is a great ballad that screams 'Single!' That is, until "Shadow," which is the strongest ballad Britney has ever recorded, impeccably produced and surprisingly resonant.
That's another thing about Spears' new record, as none of her previous albums ever managed to produce any kind of sustained emotional response than the pleasure that comes from a good pop record. I miss Max Martin, for sure, but it feels like Ms. S. has been paying attention to La Ciccone. To put it another way, this is Britney's True Blue. "Brave New Girl," the album's highlight, sounds like a better Madonna record than the track ("Me Against The Music," which works best in its non-album remixed form by Gabriel & Dresden or by Peter Rauhofer) which actually features Madonna, as if Britney and producers had distilled the best elements of Madonna's best singles of the past few years into the perfect pop record. This one has a chorus that will stick with you forever.
The blissfully reassuring thing about Kylie and Britney's new records is that both artists are making a valiant effort to keep dance-pop alive, thriving, and evolving. Both records make a point of having at least a couple of giddy moments where even the most jaded of househeads can throw their hands in the air and give in to the music. "Me Against The Music" is an ironic choice of a song, as Britney and Kylie both sound so much better when they're working with the music.
Britney Spears - In the Zone: 4/5
Kylie Minogue - Body Language: 4/5