It seems safe to say that no album has ever been released surrounded by as much turmoil as Britney Spears’ fifth album Blackout. It was released in the midst of a bad couple years in which Spears divorced her widely loathed husband Kevin Federline, had her kids taken away, was photographed strapped to a gurney in the midst of a drug overdose, shaved her head, and bashed a paparazzi’s car with an umbrella.
Blackout was debuted via a shambolic performance of its lead single “Gimme More,” at the 2007 MTV VMAs and Spears didn’t do much more to promote the album. It sold well and reviews were kind but pointed out that Spears’ seemed barely there; that if the album was a success that was to be credited to her producers. Spears’ status as a major force in pop music was much diminished.
The thing is, rather than shy from all the chaos present in Spears’ life at the time, Blackout mines it expertly. On “Piece Of Me,” possibly the most honest song of her career, Spears sings “I’m Miss American Dream since I was 17 / Don’t matter if I step on the scene or sneak away to the Philippines / They’re still gonna put pictures of my derriere in the magazine” (the South Park episode in which celebrity reporters stalk Spears and gossip about her outfits even after she blows her head off with a shotgun comes to mind).
Timbaland protégé Danja’s “Hot As Ice” is a highlight, though the backup singers are doing most of the heavy lifting, while The Neptunes-produced Federline kiss-off “Why Should I Be Sad” is entertainingly revealing. Now that Spears has pulled off a sustained comeback, Blackout doesn’t look like such a disaster. More like just a dip in her catalog during a time in her life when she wasn’t able to focus on hit-making.