More than a decade into the career of Britney Spears, any expectations for artistic growth should be thrown aside. It’s clear that, unlike her pop diva predecessors Madonna and Janet Jackson, any attempts at lyrical profundity are ignored.
With that in mind, Femme Fatale, the seventh studio album from Spears, should be viewed in the context of both her more recent efforts and the works of current pop contemporaries (including Katy Perry, Ke$ha and Rihanna). In that context, Femme Fatale is a qualified success for Miss Spears.
Femme Fatale combines the hedonistic nature of 2007’s Blackout, made in the middle of Spears’ public descent, and the pop friendly sounds of that album’s follow-up, 2008’s Circus. By bringing on board Dr. Luke and Max Martin as the album’s executive producers, Femme Fatale produces a result akin to the duo’s similar task taking on Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream — namely, the pop sound that dominates the airwaves these days dominates the album, since the duo both jointly and separately produce more than half of the album’s 12 tracks.
That’s not to say the tracks are bad — far from it, actually. Dr. Luke and Martin bring their best material to Femme Fatale, easily the biggest album the two have co-produced to date. Their songs, including singles “Hold It Against Me” and “Till the World Ends,” introduce new elements of electro-pop and dubstep into Spears’ repertoire and distinguish themselves (slightly) from the glut of pop dominating airwaves these days.
When Martin works with another of his proteges, Shellback, over Dr. Luke, the results are more interesting. Two of the album’s highlights, “I Wanna Go” and “Criminal,” are fresher than Martin’s co-productions with Dr. Luke, with the former song in particular having strong potential as a future single.
Because Dr. Luke and Martin have such a standard sound, though, it’s left to the producers of a handful of other tracks to bring musical diversity to the album.
Bloodshy, part of the production duo responsible for Spears’ “Toxic” and “Piece of Me,” among other relatively recent Spears singles, gives Femme Fatale two songs. Of the two, “How I Roll” has more fun with its lyrics, with Spears’ distinctive slur offering audible double entendres that would likely not be present with a clearer vocalist.
Elsewhere, “Big Fat Bass” finds Spears doing her best Fergie impression to production by will.i.am, who also contributes a rap on the song. In spite of the increasing monotony of will.i.am’s production style, “Bass” manages to be a highlight of the album. Maybe it’s because the song keeps Spears talking more often than singing, which makes the vocals clearer.
Also maintaining a fresh sound is “(Drop Dead) Beautiful,” produced by frequent Dr. Luke collaborator Benny Blanco. The song’s thumping beat gives an air of attitude which makes the song pop amongst the beats found elsewhere on the album.
If there’s really a complaint to be made against the album, it’s the lack of effort put forth by Spears. While she sounds largely engaged on this album, the album also feels incongruous to her image. The album that Femme Fatale will be most compared to is Blackout, but where that album came out at a time where the public was well aware of Spears’ partying behavior, Femme Fatale comes when the public knows she’s is still under the supervision of her father and manager — and when she seems most content to be a mother to her sons.
The difference between the hookup-ready Spears found on the album and the stay-at-home real-life Spears stands out in a time where other pop stars have lives that seem to match with what they’re singing. That’s why, for all the effort put in by the various producers and songwriters on this album, it falls just short of being Spears’ best work.