Music

Britney Takes Cue From Candidates, Masters Misunderestimation

Britney Spears

Britney Spears recalibrates your hopes. Kevin Winter/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Political campaigns often try to lower expectations for their candidates before big events, so that even average performances end up looking great. President Bush himself has acknowledged that he has often benefited from this approach, saying, "I am the master of low expectations." (Before the 2000 election he also famously remarked that he had frequently been "misunderestimated.")

Now the line between politics and entertainment grows blurrier still. After breaking new ground in the field of Expectation Diminution, Britney Spears today releases her new album, Blackout. (Listen to the whole record here.) As evidence of how low the bar has gotten, most of the reviews can be summed up with the Houston Chronicle headline, "A surprise from Britney."

Of course, people would probably be surprised if Britney made it from her house to the recording studio without engaging in some form of parental negligence. But can she actually sing? Is this album really any good?

No and not really.

Britney's voice on Blackout is so computer-modulated that she sounds like she's being channeled by HAL. The only worthwhile elements of this album are provided by the production, which consists of several good radio-friendly dance/pop ditties and five songs I could have created on my MacBook by pressing Apple-F2. (Spoiler alert: The song "Get Naked (I Got A Plan)" is about Britney wanting to have sex with someone.)

All that being said, if you're prone to liking dance/pop music and you want something catchy and mindless to listen to at the gym, you could do worse than Britney's new album. But you could also do much better. I give this album a rating of two PopoZaos out of five.

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Numerous critics agree Blackout is Britney's best record to date and frankly, I agree. While Mr. Pashman criticizes Britney's "computer-modulated" vocals and gives the majority of the credit to the producers, he fails to recognize Ms. Spears' creative growth as a musician. For example, one producer on the album, Sean Garrett (Toy Soldier), praised Britney for her dedication and creative input into the album. Despite her chaotic personal life, Ms. Spears has surely evolved into a credible, Grammy Award winning Dance and Pop artist especially when she was initially written off as a manufactured teen queen.

Sent by John | 8:07 AM | 11-1-2007

I understand that there's part of us all that feels a certain sympathy for Britney, but let's look at the facts. As the Washington Post points out, if you look at the writing credits, "Spears mostly sat out the songwriting process after becoming increasingly engaged in that element over the course of her two previous albums."

But the best evidence that the Britney on this album is more machine than woman is found in her MTV Video Music Awards performance. If that's a "credible artist," Paris Hilton is the second coming of DaVinci.

Sent by Dan Pashman | 8:40 AM | 11-1-2007

Make sure you check out our interview with NYT music critic Kelefa Sanneh at the end of hour two today (to be posted soon). As he correctly points out, several big pop stars sang backup vocals on Britney's album, and their voices were melded with hers in production. So even what you think is Britney isn't all Britney on "Blackout."

Kelefeh had about a million other brilliant insights into the album and its production. Make sure you check out that interview when it posts later.

Sent by Dan Pashman | 9:14 AM | 11-1-2007

Would people stop talking about her enhanced vocals and writing credits??? Pop singers dont write anything but they get credits cause producer and songwriters either sell them or its negotiated. Bottom line- just cause it says Beyonce or ALicia Keys wrote it doesnt mean its true. Next- the vocal effects were done more to match the tracks then to cover up bad vocals..Anyone who know anything about music can hear that in 2 minutes.

Sent by Chris | 1:22 PM | 11-4-2007

Chris, would you explain what you mean by "matching the tracks?" Because I know at least a little about music and I don't understand what you're getting at. Are you saying that her vocals were not in tune with the instruments on the other tracks? Or that her vocals were inconsistent from take to take? What are you saying, exactly, and how is what you're describing different from "bad vocals?"

I take no pleasure in bashing Britney -- it's been done, plenty, and I feel bad for her that the same people who made her a superstar have turned on her and are now mocking and villifying her. No one deserves that. But what we're talking about here is not personal, it's professional. Britney Spears is supposed to be a singer, and despite all the bad treatment she has received of late, don't you think she should be able to, you know, sing? Without too much eletronic assistance?

Sent by Tony Camas | 2:41 PM | 11-4-2007