Rhythm & Views

Britney Spears

On "Gimme More," the first track on Britney Spears' new album, producer Danja smirks, "Bet you didn't see this one coming." True, sir. Blackout is a fantastic dance album, and I most certainly did not see that coming.

My feelings about Spears the human being tend to run hot and cold--hot in denunciation and cold in disdain. But Spears the artist? I've never had much of an opinion, and Blackout doesn't help. Spears does very little actual singing on the album--the vocals mostly consist of moaning, warbling and a lot of whispering--and her voice is so heavily manipulated, the person behind the mixing board is way more prominent than the one behind the mic.

Standout tracks include "Toy Soldiers" (topic: pesky boys), "Piece of Me" (pesky paparazzo) and "Heaven on Earth" (pesky obsessive love). The latter is destined to be a classic club banger; it's a flawless dance song. "Why Should I Be Sad?" also shines and is oddly personal considering Spears didn't write it. In fact, Blackout actually benefits from the fact that Spears appears to be phoning it in, a virtual guest star on her own album. The real stars of Blackout are its heavy-hitter producers: The Neptunes, Bloodshy and Avant, and aforementioned Timbaland protégé Danja.

There are myriad reasons why Blackout should have been a colossal failure: the shocking lack of promotion by both Jive Records and Spears (when asked how she celebrated the release, Spears responded, "Ate fried chicken"); that horrifying performance at the Video Music Awards; her inability to handle the business of life.

Instead, it's Spears' strongest work by far. Whoda thunk it?

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