The less interesting Britney Spears gets as a celebrity train-wreck, the more interesting she gets as a musician. Let me back up, as no one should ever refer to Spears ever as a musician. But recently, the dance music she’s been creating has been more interesting and occasionally irresistible. The more mature, fully realized sounds we caught glimpses of on “Circus” are juiced, jazzed-up and rubbed in our nose on the utterly faceless but ever-so-catchy gym soundtrack “Femme Fatale.”
A femme fatale is a woman who seduces you and gets you to do things your moral code might otherwise prevent you from doing. “Femme Fatale” achieves this — with a limited amount of sleaze, believe it or not — drawing our ear with contemporary sounds and beats and then luring us, willing or not, onto the dancefloor. Spears is still a pop star (witness the first single, “Hold It Against Me,” already at No. 1) but she’s thrown her lot in with the DJs and megaproducers — such as “Femme Fatale” architects Billboard, Max Martin, Dr. Luke and others — crafting current, stubbornly thumping hits, which many of these tracks undeniably are.
The trade-off is personality. If she had one at all, it’s gone now. Brit-Brit’s voice is processed so heavily on this record, and the lyrics so bland, these songs could be sung by anyone. “I Wanna Go” tweaks her up so high she could be Jackie Evancho, while “(Drop Dead) Beautiful” drags her down low as if she’s Rihanna. She rarely sounds like an identifiable individual. But the voice is just an excuse for the beats, the synthesizers, the weird noises — “Femme Fatale” a relentless album engineered for the club and the elliptical machine. The rhythmic assault only lets up occasionally, for weak mid-tempo fare (“Inside Out,” “Criminal”), inventive detours (“How I Roll” is wonderfully weird and childlike, in a good way, and defines 21st-century bubblegum) and one unfortunate collaboration (with will.i.am on “Big Fat Bass” — really, Britney herself could beat him in a rap battle).
Lady Gaga shouldn’t sweat, but “Femme Fatale” should have a brief and deserved moment in the spring sun.
“Femme Fatale” is streaming in its entirety at AOL Music. The CD is out Tuesday, and there’s a release party Monday at Chicago’s Portage Theater.