All grown up … and going places?!?

Kristyn Pomranz, Annie Zaleski



Britney Spears



Producers Danja, Bloodshy & Avant, Kara DioGuardi and The Neptunes have collaborated to make an ass-shaking electro-dance disc that will surely find exhaustive rotation in every club across America. It’s sleek, it’s modern, and—oh, I hear Britney Spears did sumthin’ too.

Although Spears didn’t bother to help write more than two tracks, she still okayed plenty of self-deprecating lyrics like, “I’m Mrs. Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous/I’m Mrs. Oh My God That Britney’s Shameless.” Hey—if she’s going to let other people be her autobiographers, at least she has a sense of humor about it. Not so funny are the sopping sexual lyrics that were clearly written for Britney circa 2001, when she was a Slave 4 Us, glinting with sweat. Now when she purrs about her animal-sack tendencies, it’s difficult to picture anyone other than the listless, love-handled Perez punchline. So until Britney gets her showmanshit together, we must cast lyrics and larynx aside and judge Blackout for what it is: a producer’s playground.

Bound to become incurably stuck in the planet’s collective head is “Toy Soldier”—a quick-paced “empowerment” anthem that showcases rigorous scale drop-offs à la “Hollaback Girl.” The fresh “Hot as Ice” has enough funk and chorus-layering that it conjures the Black Eyed Peas. And breaking from the album’s status quo is the new-wave “Heaven on Earth,” which melds moaning in major and mewing in minor against a synth-gazing backdrop all-too-reminiscent of—dare I say it?—Pizzicato Five. And while I’m bastardizing great bands, I’ll go ahead and admit that “Ooh Ooh Baby” reminds me of The Turtles’ “Happy Together.”

Yep, this album is damn good. But it’s not good because of Britney. It’s good in spite of Britney. –Kristyn Pomranz



Backstreet Boys



Out of all the teen-pop artists that came of age in the late 1990s, the Backstreet Boys have emerged largely unscathed—at least artistically. (The lawsuits and tabloid dust-ups the group has been embroiled in are rather de rigueur, and eminently tamer than anything Britney or Justin has experienced.) The Boys are comfortingly consistent, if not the Ken dolls of pop music: harmless, vanilla and always looking and sounding their best.

Likewise, Unbreakable, the group’s follow-up to its 2005 comeback Never Gone—and first since the exit of elder statesman Kevin Richardson—is a suave pop album that doesn’t try to be anything but a BSB disc. Gorgeous three- and four-part harmonies float atop fluttery guitars, slick synths, watery piano and driving beats that are funky—but never too funky. Love and romance dominate the hook-heavy adult contemporary (like the string-laden highlight “Something That I Already Know”); Savage Garden and P.M. Dawn are good touchstones, although a few songs seem destined to be covered by modern country stars (“Trouble Is” in particular), and the JC “’N Sync” Chasez-co-penned “Treat Me Right” is electro-lite hip-hop.

There’s nothing groundbreaking about Unbreakable, but it’s an enjoyable record with strong, mature songwriting. By not caving to faddish trends, and sticking to their established, sappy-’n-sensitive formula, the Backstreet Boys remain neither dated nor past their expiration date. –Annie Zaleski

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