Britney may be a disaster, but her album is brilliant

by Matthew Ritger | 11/15/07 1:58am

Britney's bumbling VMA performance in September brought her back to the forefront of the music scene; unlike her stage presence, her album is great.
by Courtesy of Stuff Media NZ / The Dartmouth

"Blackout" is creepy, deranged and brilliant. It's as if Edward Scissorhands threw a rager in his factory of earthly delights. The demonic, tone-deaf voices in the chorus of "Gimme More" (currently at number 13, down from its peak at three on the Billboard Hot 100) set the tone for this collection of club-thumpers. In the scintillating "Hot as Ice," it sounds like robotic gargoyles are chanting the syncopated ouga-chaka-ouga-chakas in the background.

This album is a masterpiece of postmodern music. You're not supposed to care who wrote it, or what it says, or who produced it, or even who sings it (or what US Weekly thinks of said "singer") -- this is simply a pounding, synth-ridden ride to oblivion. Whoever the wizard is behind this Oz (I'm not claiming this is Britney's brainchild), he or she is playing mind games with the audience and the music industry. It doesn't even sound like Britney; this is a disembodied dance album attributable to no particular talent, devoted to no particular message, insidiously titled "Blackout." Somewhere in a dark cave, Radiohead is slitting their wrists out of genius-jealousy ("In Rainbows" vs. "Blackout" -- enough said; cachet goes to Ms. Spears).

In the verse of the wild "Get Naked," robo-Britney intones: "I'm not ashamed of my beauty, you can see what I got," and the robo-gargoyles answer: "She might freak you out/she might even black you out." In the B-line, four separate harmonious and disharmonious voices flit in and out, up and down, chanting different parts, until the confluence of the chorus as they impart their message to the dancing masses: "Get naked, get naked, get naked." Burn, Savonarola, burn; Again I say, this is brilliant.

In "Blackout," Britney subsumes the sacrilege of "Like a Prayer"-era Madonna, but without any of the overt imagery or irony. "Holla at me if you hear me, can I get a witness?" she pleads on "Hot as Ice," and then subverts her former Catholic schoolgirl self: "Preacher preacher -- I'm the teacher, you can learn." As her gargoyles pant, she delivers her sermon: "Break it down, break it down, break it down," which seems to call for the deconstruction of more than just her beat. It's hedonism, it's Heironymous, it's the garden of earthly delights -- "Have you ever been to heaven? This is twice as nice."

The album's second track, "Piece of Me," is a dance-infused invective against the paparazzi and America's fascination with Ms. Spears's personal antics. Produced by Bloodshy & Avant (the same Swedes responsible for "Toxic"), Britney lays down slam after tone-twisted slam: "I'm Mrs. She's Too Big, now She's Too Thin / you want a piece of me?" That's funny, I can't recall anyone claiming Britney was too thin of late; anyway, the middle finger she's flipping to our culture is plenty large.

There are four worthless songs on this album, one of which is the last, a breakup ballad for K-Fed not even deserving of mention (Okay, the title is too funny: "Why should I be sad?"). It requires only a little bit of subtraction, which even Britney would be capable of, to deduce that there are therefore eight other (count 'em, eight!) sinfully excellent songs. That's 30 minutes of pure, thumping, nihilist, blacked-out bliss. That's all it is. That's all it needs to be.

If you don't believe me, read the New York Times, whose critic said that, along with her producers, Britney "evoke[s] the horror, the exhilaration and (finally) the boredom of the overexamined life. It's brilliant." It's horrific and exhilarating indeed, and since we're still in college, it's not even boring -- more like a blacked-out basement battle cry. Turn it up, frat brothers of the world.