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Britney’s eighth album a step in the right direction

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Annie Zaleski

Three stars

Britney Spears Britney Jean

Despite a tumultuous personal life, Britney Spears the pop-culture juggernaut has been rolling on unabated in recent years, culminating in a two-year Planet Hollywood residency that begins December 27. Spears’ musical career has also continued to thrive even as it has grown less satisfying artistically. The quirky production and playful synth tricks of 2007’s Blackout and 2008’s Circus have devolved into generic-sounding songs that overemphasize ultra-processed vocals and faceless electronica.

Britney Jean, Spears’ eighth studio album, attempts to reverse that course. While there’s plenty of basic dancefloor catnip—highlighted by the Will.i.am-featuring squiggly EDM of “It Should Be Easy” and chilly 8-bit techno surge “Body Ache”—Spears has a writing credit on every song, and the lyrics downplay her invincibility in favor of personal vulnerability. The soft-glow synth-pop highlight “Alien” (which features William Orbit’s signature ebb-and-flow production) delves into themes of overcoming loneliness; the windswept ballad “Perfume” deals with relationship insecurities using brittle piano and syrupy strings; and the rock-tinged “Passenger” goes through the tough process of giving up control and trusting another person. “Chillin’ With You” is even sweeter: It’s a simple celebration of drinking wine and bonding with your sister that features vocals from Spears’ own sibling, Jamie Lynn.

Britney Jean still isn’t as distinctive or colorful as Spears’ best releases, but it goes a long way toward making her music seem human and relatable again. In other words, the record is a confident step in the right direction.

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