As iconic as she’s become, Britney Spears still carries with her an air of unfulfilled potential. Not as far as professional achievement goes; the Louisiana native has been a money-making industry unto herself for much of her life. In terms of her music, though, it’s a different story. She was on the verge of something great with 2003’s In the Zone, which was better received by fans than by critics, and 2007’s Blackout was a fantastic album that was overshadowed by personal troubles.
Those personal troubles were enough to infamously cause the Associated Press to prepare an obituary for Spears. Fortunately, she survived, but since then we’ve been grading her on a curve. The album born from that difficult period—2008’s Circus—had its moments (“If You Seek Amy” is good), but was ultimately just OK. The same goes for 2011’s Femme Fatale. Then there was Britney Jean, in 2013, an album most of us pretend never happened out of politeness.
And while the music wavered in quality from 2008 to 2013, Spears consistently seemed dejected as both a performer and personality. Even her highly profitable Las Vegas show relies on her old hits and nostalgia. Is there any reason to expect much from Britney Spears, recording artist, in 2016?
Her latest release, Glory, answers that with a soft yes.
I was more than ready to give my firm no after hearing the album's first single, “Make Me,” a track that, like Spears circa Circus, is just there, glassy eyed and floating. Likewise, “Private Show,” which works great as a jingle to sell her perfume, but isn't good for much else. The promo single “Clumsy” does feature a very present Spears on vocals, but it’s not especially great as a song.
The shift from disappointment to surprisingly pleased begins with “Do You Wanna Come Over?” It’s a fun, cheeky, flirtatious pop song about sex. Some have employed Spears’ use of sexuality in her music to paint her as “one dimensional.” This is not a new critique of Spears. Many have wondered why her music is impersonal. Spears did herself no favors when she billed her last album as her “most personal album to date” despite it not saying much of anything about the realities of her life.
I wish Spears hadn’t bothered; she doesn’t owe us anything, especially not after her darker period in the late 2000s, which an invasive media likely only worsened, if not directly fueled.
As an artist, Spears is what she is. In terms of albums, I could go for more In the Zone and Blackout, but in terms of subject matter, I’m not expecting The Velvet Rope from her. Spears sells us dance music, and yes, lots of sex.
To that end, “Do You Wanna Come Over?” serves its purpose quite well. As does “Slumber Party,” another danceable song about sex where she coos—less robotically, mind you—“we ain’t gonna sleep tonight.” Or “Coupure Électrique,” a song Spears sings entirely in French.
For many of these songs, she sings like she’s truly into it. You get that sense on “Liar,” “What You Need,” and “Man on the Moon.” Her voice sounds processed, as it normally does, but much less than usual. Which is to say, she doesn’t sound like a robot with a sex addiction on Glory.
Are any of these tracks as great as “Breathe on Me,” “Gimme More,” “I’m A Slave 4 U,” or “Get Naked (I Got A Plan)”? No, but they’re better than what we’ve heard in recent years. Still, Spears should give Danja and Pharrell Williams a call. Hell, I’d love another Blackout. Spears claimed Glory would be influenced by hip-hop. Yeah, not really. One wonders where the tracks she did with DJ Mustard are hiding. Hopefully, someone eventually frees them.
In the meantime, Glory is good enough to prevent me and other fans from worrying whether or not it would be best to put the 34-year-old into “Flashback Friday” terrain for good. Britney sounds like she truly gives a damn, and for audiences, it makes the music far less disposable.
Glory, glory, hallelujah.