2011 ushers in the follow-up to Britney Spears' 2008 album Circus. It's called Femme Fatale and features the singles "Hold It Against Me" and "Till The World Ends." Both tracks exhibit a stylistic shift towards the UK genre of dubstep, with "Hold It Against Me" having a distinct dubstep breakdown. Both tracks are geared towards the dancefloor with four-to-the-floor beats and engineered with catchy lyrics to make you break into song. "Till The World Ends" is especially geared toward this, having been written by pop maven Ke$ha who creates a vocal frenzy on top of some booty-shaking beats. Ultimately, neither track adequately prepares you for the album.
Call It "Lost In Definition"
Britney Spears' Femme Fatale exhibits few of the aspects that define the iconic role of the Femme Fatale. While she does incorporate dubstep elements into nearly every track on the album, it still feels safe and far from dangerous. She sings about the same subjects; love, loss, mischief, longing, sex. None of this is new, but perhaps she is a little less playful than on Circus, and definitely less aggressive than on Blackout. She is not a siren, leading listeners to their doom. Instead, she is providing a good, if different, Britney Spears experience. And it is an experience very much influenced by the current direction the industry is heading, with more of a focus on electronica and dance beats. "Hold It Against Me" features a much more progressive beat for Britney than prior songs. Even "Womanizer" was strongly electronic and there is a much sharper edge to "Hold It Against Me." A sharper edge, yes, but less of a reason to return. Compared to the Circus lead, "Hold It Against Me" comes off weak and bland. Compared to the lead from Blackout, "Gimme More," "Hold It Against Me" is a glass of water half-empty, hinting at refreshment but not quite achieving the desired results. And what's dangerous about that?
Hearken To The Past?
The album elicits in me most specifically the memories of first listening to her third album, Britney. That album showed a marked shift from her debut and sophomore albums into more distinctive production styles that would define her as a singer in later years. Tracks like "Bombastic Love," "Boys," "Let Me Be," and "What It's Like To Be Me" were all unique to her repertoire, so the experience was new and welcome. Heading into Femme Fatale, I didn't expect to make this correlation, but I found myself dipping back into that album between listens of Femme Fatale to find what I was enjoying about the new album and what I was missing from it. Where Femme Fatale succeeds, it succeeds with flying colors. Tracks like "Seal It With A Kiss," "Trouble For Me," and "Trip To Your Heart" feature catchy lyrics with strong mental depictions attached to them, as well as musical flourishes that stand out as distinctive and unique for the singer. "Trouble For Me" starts out with a deep shuddering synth that will later serve as the pre-chorus breakdown with Spears singing along. This minor aspect to the song is the actual hook, despite how strong the chorus is. The dubstep growls that support the melody of "Seal It With A Kiss" make the story of a forbidden and torrid affair in the shadows all the more taboo. And "Trip To Your Heart" has a solid breakdown where she details the exact trip to his heart through his arms, breath, lips, etc. The driving beat and frantic synths impress upon the listener the desperate need to finish her journey.
A lot of the album needed time to grow on me. On first listen, these tracks didn't wow me but I didn't feel like I required immediate bathing after, so they had that going for them. And despite the success of the two singles released, one fell into this category, and one was good for about 10 listens before it was no longer listenable. "Till The World Ends" is a track that creeps under your skin, as is the same for all Ke$ha tracks I didn't love on first listen. In a similar vein as the tracks on Britney, "Inside Out" starts with a little synth tickle, but the track is pure dubstep from beginning to end. It embraces the style wholly, if erring on the side of the mainstream, and to the unfamiliar it could come across as boring; in fact, I thought it was boring. But Britney does a good job of bringing you in after repeated listens, and her lyrics will get you involved. Conversely, the pure dance pop of "I Wanna Go" didn't settle with me on first listen, but the cutesy whistle that accompanies the track sort of made it easy to grin when the track came on.