In the run-up to Britney Spears’s eighth album, Britney Jean, will.i.am — the Black Eyed Pea leader-slash-futurist who’s credited as the record’s executive producer — described the creative process deployed by the millennium’s most indelible pop figure: “She’ll arrive at 1:30 [p.m.], and from 2 to 6 she’ll be like BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM. BAM BAM BAM BAM. BAM BAM. I’ve never seen anything like that.” Chalk it up to a finessed work ethic, or to Spears knowing exactly how to satiate the appetite of a public that’s grown up alongside (and, at times, surrounding) her, but Britney Jean is a taut 10-song collection that’s as briskly businesslike as will’s description implies, and as the pummeling “Work Bitch” commands.
Britney Jean has been touted as being more “personal” than Spears’s other albums, which really means a just-about-even split between bangers and mush. (Ballads, that is.) The left-field flourishes that marked her previous albums are gone, but the rubbery “Body Ache” and the stomping “Til It’s Gone” — both of which count megaproducer David Guetta among their writers — recall the darkened-dancefloor atmosphere of Spears’s enigmatic 2007 album Blackout, while the ever-dapper T.I. continues to position himself as the master of smarmy guest-verse charm on the whirring “Tik Tik Boom.” “Perfume” is not an ode to Spears’s still-chugging-along fragrance line (now at 13 varietals) but a delicately paranoid description of how Britney might mark her (human) territory; the kiss-off “Don’t Cry” serves as the big, swooping power-electro-ballad.
The most curious — and perhaps most personal — track on the album is “Chillin’ With You,” Spears’s duet with her sister Jamie Lynn. It has a sweet slumber-party feel; the strummed-guitar bookends recall the Lumineers’ smash “Ho Hey,” although the song’s meat is taken up by a robotic groove, confessions of being tipsy on wine (Brit prefers red, her sister white), and lots of reveling in the way “chill” is pronounced. In the few lyrics that don’t involve the titular phrase, the siblings seem to be looking back on their time in the spotlight—”I danced so much ’til I was tired,” the elder Spears sings at one point — and the song’s relatively loose nature allows them to seem actually content. For all the talk about Spears’s devotion to her job, it’s nice to get a sense that she’s actually enjoying herself, and managing to free herself from at least some of her career’s more stress-inducing aspects, while she’s on the clock.