Do not overlook the significant pop-cultural fact that Britney Spears is not Lindsay Lohan. Next to bedraggled La Lohan, who is 24 going on Ann-Margret in Tommy, a sad spiraling party foul who's given up trying, 29-year-old Britney appears altogether human — never mind that a few short years ago she was as bald as Kojak and attacking sedans with an umbrella.
It feels good to root for sane mommy Brit-Brit — or at least it does on the dance floor, where we're all reclamation projects in waiting. Nothing on her 11th album, the new Femme Fatale, released this week, is organic, genuine, particularly real; it's more often throbbing, occasionally hot, unfailingly Barbarella. And yet Spears' new path — another I'm-trying comeback in a career packed with 'em — gives the proceedings a certain depth. If Brit can erase her sins, so can we. Now who wants to hook up?
The regular edition of Femme Fatale is 12 tracks long; a deluxe version includes another four. Both editions, however, are about six good songs deep, which is pretty impressive for an artist who may or may not be actually singing on her own record.
Superproducers Max Martin (Katie Perry's Teenage Dream) and Dr. Luke (Miley Cyrus' Party in the U.S.A.) make sure that not a split second goes by without a fat strobing hook that sticks to your brain like a remora. Album opener and second single Till the World Ends, a go-all-night carpe hornem burner, thrives on a stuttering "whoa-o-o" effect. "Keep on dancing till the world ends," Britney robo-sings as randy synth meteors crash. It's pretty dumb; it's also pretty awesome.
There are clever touches here and there. A cute whistle effect — not unlike the vaguely militaristic tweet from Peter Gabriel's Games Without Frontiers — flirts over an insistent duh-duh-duh beat on I Wanna Go, a full-throttle let's-romp invite. Despite the lazy JoBros-redux title, the tequila-scented How I Roll is all bubble-pops and kiddie-show keyboards; it's as if Captain Kangaroo were back on the singles scene — and killing it.
If there's a talker on the album — well, besides Hold It Against Me's supposed resemblance to an old Bellamy Brothers hit (please) — it's Inside Out, a slurring, slow-grinder about exes deciding on one last tryst. The song references old Spears songs, but more than that, it's honestly provocative. "Even though we couldn't last together, baby, you know what I want right now," Britney coos. "Won't you give me something to remember? Baby, shut your mouth and turn me inside out." It's hot stuff, and if I'm Kevin Federline, I'm definitely going to Supercuts to get spiffy.
Britney's voice is a compressed, condensed, stretched, perfumed instrument; that drones on the album's thudding second half. Producers still won't let her hold a real note, but what's the risk? Such is the prolonged adoration for the pop star — Marilyn Monroe for the tabs-hungry 21st century — she could release an album of armpit squeaks and we'd eat it up. The truth is, we'll carry her whether she succeeds or fails, grows her hair or does the Curly Shuffle. We support her because Britney is us, the night before, the morning after.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at tampabay.com/blogs/poplife.