Oops, She’s Still Got It: Britney Spears’ ‘Glory’ Actually Is Glorious

britney-spears-press-new-2016-billboard-1548What a relief: we don’t have to worry about Britney Spears anymore.

Britney’s had her much-publicized ups and downs — both in her personal life and her musical career, though not necessarily at the same time. (Her best album was released during the rockiest, baldest, most crotch-flashingest patch of her life, somehow.) In recent years, it seems Britney was on an upswing personally, with a highly successful Vegas residency… unfortunately coinciding with the release of what has to be her worst album, Britney Jean. Last year’s wretched collaboration with Iggy Azalea on “Pretty Girls” didn’t do much to convince us that Britney’s 2016 album, Glory, would fare much better. (Thankfully, “Pretty Girls” is nowhere to be found here.) Las Vegas is typically where we send musicians to die, and for a while, it seemed that could be Britney’s fate, too. She could happily lip sync to her old hits in a well-choreographed stage show, and her fans would be just fine with heading out to Sin City every couple years to see her do so.

So imagine my surprise when I idly previewed the tracks on iTunes, thinking: “this one’s pretty good… so is this… hmmm, interesting, maybe I’ll buy this track… and this one… maybe this one too…” Perhaps you felt the same surprise I did. As it turns out, Glory is a solid enough comeback album to convince me that Britney’s no longer in danger of spiraling off into total irrelevance, as she’s threatened to do at least a couple times before. It’s not just because the album is good… it’s everyone who made it, including Britney Spears herself, seems to be actually trying.

For no real reason, really, I decided to blog my first full listen of Britney Spears’ Glory. Here goes.

1. “Invitation”

First tracks are important. I have previously chided artists for not properly beginning their albums with a song that was clearly destined to be the album opener. No such rebuke is necessary for Ms. Spears, however. A song called “Invitation” is the perfect invite to a new album, as if Britney’s own hand is outstretched toward us, beckoning us to join her on a new sonic journey. The song is lush and low-key, easing us into what’s to come as most good albums do (rather than blow its load in the first few tracks, as albums with a lot of filler tend to do). “Invitation” absolutely makes us want to RSVP “yes” to whatever’s next.

2. “Make Me”

I was vaguely aware of this single in the past few weeks, but it didn’t “make me” terribly excited for a new Britney Spears album, mainly because I was skeptical that this might be the best Glory had to offer. This single whiffs of “Perfume” (though it is much better),in that it could have indicated desperation to find a single, any single! (In the case of Britney Jean, after “Work Bitch,” there just wasn’t one.) “Make Me” left me skeptical about what Glory had to offer, but as part of the greater whole that is this album, it’s pretty great — grown up and low key, not trying too hard, a nice indication of what’s to come in further tracks. It also gets better with age — without even knowing I really knew this song, it got stuck in my head. Subtle!

3. “Private Show”

This is the first track that immediately jumps out and announces that Glory is something a little different. The best thing about this album is that it leans into Britney’s strengths, and “Private Show” is just dripping with kitschiness and Britney’s gooey baby vocal stylings. Oddly it enough, it turns out to be genuinely sexy anyway. As the title suggests, “Private Show” signals that Britney is letting it all hang out in Glory, unafraid to show off as the goofy porn star she is. She risks seriously embarrassing herself with a faux-rap and invoking the played out “twerk,” but the catchy production keeps it simple and doesn’t let her down (another big theme for Glory). “Private Show” should be a disaster and instead ends up being a masterpiece.

4. “Man On The Moon”

One thing elevates this track above a typical album cut: “Man On The Moon” is chock full of space puns, and that’s great. We’ve got Apollo 13 references, we’re paraphrasing Neil Armstrong… we’ve got it all, people! It only took 16 years for Britney to finally correctly match her 90s movie quotes to the appropriate space imagery. (The dude who rescued the Heart of the Ocean from the bottom of the sea in “Oops I Did It Again” was an astronaut. What kind of sense does that make?) We’ve also got Britney speaking… Italian? (The internet says: French.) This is the kind of track that throws us back to early teen Britney — timeless, innocent mooning-over-you pop. (Unlike, say, “E-Mail My Heart,” which felt dated even in 1999.)

5. “Just Luv Me”

Britney says she’s going to keep it real simple in this track, and that she does. “Just Luv Me” is a sexy little number, but it’s really a rest stop before we move on to more invigorating beats.

6. “Clumsy”

Oops! “Clumsy” is one of Glory‘s immediate standouts, noteworthy for its playfulness and cutesy quirk. Here, Britney is simultaneously both the belle of the ball at a country hoedown and queen of a swanky nightclub, and that’s hard to pull off. Britney’s Avicii-like mix of 2016 EDM and a hand-clappy throwback tune is a smart direction to go in, one not many other pop divas have caught onto (yet). One of Glory‘s most startling qualities is the way that Britney embraces the limitations of her voice and just goes for it. This is maybe Britney’s first album that rarely sounds like she’s burying her shortcomings under production — she’s a grown woman now, fine being whoever she truly is, even if “who she is” is an incredibly horny toddler. For the first time in a long time, here’s real personality behind these lyrics and the way Britney delivers them. “Clumsy” joins “Private Show” (and, later, “What You Need”) as a potential train wreck that nimbly maneuvers its way around potential awkwardness, becoming indelible instead.

7. “Do You Wanna Come Over?”

A dirty, slinky beat mixes with the sound of a beer can opening, and Britney seems to believe that we’re just going to cuddle to this one? Probably my favorite Glory track upon first listen, this is Britney at her very Britney-est, and it’ll be the crime of the century if this isn’t a single. Yes, Britney, we do want to come over. We always have.

8. “Slumber Party”

Here’s a Britney song about how empowering it is for young girls to have sleepover nights to just bond, giggle, and watch their favorite chick flicks, no boys allowed. Just kidding! It’s about fucking. (I can say “fucking” because Britney herself drops an F-bomb in this one.) This is a solid enough entry in Britney’s “come hither” gallery, which is comprised of almost every song she’s ever recorded, but I was more excited by the less overt Netflix-and-chill vibe of “Do You Wanna Come Over?” (maybe just because of that beer can, though).

9. “Just Like Me”

By no means the standout track of Glory, “Just Like Me” is closer to filler than we’ve previously gotten on this album, but enjoyable in its own right, not least because it’s a break from Britney’s sex kitten hijinks, letting her try on a green eyed monster shade instead. It also gives us some guitar, not something we normally associate with Ms. Spears. “Just Like Me” emerges as one of the more mature Glory cuts, letting Britney’s voice get a little rawer than we’re used to at times (but not, unfortunately, on the chorus, which does feel a bit overproduced). Britney tracks can sometimes feel like she’s distracted, trying to get this recording done before the kids wake up from their naps. Glory isn’t like that.

10. “Love Me Down”

Uh-oh, Britney’s horny again! I’d be curious to learn what criteria Britney’s team uses to determine which tracks spell love “l-u-v” and which get the more traditional treatment. (In both cases, I’m pretty sure “love” just means “fuck.”) There’s nothing too noteworthy about “Love Me Down,” but it’s probably not the track you’re going to skip every time, either.

11. “Hard To Forget Ya”

We know Britney doesn’t do a lot of her own songwriting (and doesn’t have a credit on this one), but it’s hard not to wonder if she’s singing about Timberlake, Federline, or… uh, those Brexes that were not so hard to forget. We’ve now gotten through nearly the whole album without a proper ballad, which is terrific, as those have never been Britney’s strongest play. This wraps up the “listenable but unremarkable” back half of the album… we’ve got just one track left of the non-deluxe release.

12. “What You Need”

What’s happening? Who turned off Glory? Where’s Britney? These questions are likely to pop into your head as “What You Need” begins, as your iTunes has seemingly chosen to switch over to a sassy second-tier Broadway musical. But, nope! That’s Britney. It’s hard to imagine any previous Britney (except maybe kooky, head-shaved Britney) going for something this loopy and soulful and Disney villain-appropriate. (Seriously, this is just a notch or two away from “Poor Unfortunate Souls.”) On a track this jazz-handsy, Britney again fully risks making a complete ass of herself… and somehow, just doesn’t. “That was fun!” she declares at the end of the track. And you know what? It was!

13. “Better”

If this song sounds like it would be at home on Justin Bieber’s latest offering, that’s because Purpose and Glory share more than just pretentious, self-congratulatory titles: they share the producer BloodPop. (For one track only, in Britney’s case.) Britney’s vocals mix pretty spectacularly with BloodPop’s trademark “torturing a whole zoo full of animals” production noises, doing it even “Better” than the Biebs does.

14. “Change Your Mind (No Seas Cortes)”

We’ve heard Britney speaking French, and now we get her spouting Spanish? (At least it’s not just “Mmm Papi” this time.) I fear that Britney raising the bar like this is dangerous, because it will be sorely disappointing if she isn’t fluent in Chinese for her next album release. “Change Your Mind” is otherwise serviceable bonus track filler, but one of Glory‘s more expendable inclusions, mostly because these Spanish-tinged tracks are best left for J-Lo, Selena Gomez, or whoever can pull that off with a bit more authenticity.

15. “Liar”

Harmonica and Britney’s second F-bomb. What’s not to love? The “wild west showdown” vibe has me envisioning Britney’s body double doing some sexy silhouetted rope-twirling action in the music video we’ll never get because this is just a deluxe version track. I guess Britney will have to settle for hog-tying a shirtless male model in our collective imagination. I would’ve included this one on the standard album in lieu of “Love Me Down,” but no worries: it’s here.

16. “If I’m Dancing”

Fans of “How I Roll,” perhaps Britney’s greatest and weirdest tune, should dig this: it’s basically a spiritual sequel to that Femme Fatale standout. I’m definitely one of them. This is the one that makes you truly glad you got the deluxe version, even if it isn’t quite at the level of “How I Roll.” This one deserves better than bonus track status, and fits with the overall experimental vibe of Glory exhibited in its best tracks — but oh well!

17. “Coupure Electrique”

…And now we’ve finally, totally departed any relation to the “Baby One More Time” schoolgirl we knew so well. “Coupore Electrique” is strange and euphoric, and again, in French. Britney delivers a convincing French accent (is that Britney?)… you have to hear this one to believe it. But it’s good.

*

And with that, Glory is done. Britney’s “give it a whirl” spirit carries through the whole album, giving us plenty of stuff we don’t expect to hear from Britney Spears. Glory utilizes Britney’s voice better than probably any other album ever has, and despite some brave go-for-broke moments, she completely avoids that one embarrassing cut that seems to pop up on virtually album she’s ever released. (You know which ones I mean.) For far too long, Britney has felt fussily stage managed and overly safe, but in Glory, she’s finally ready to take a chance. And it works.

The first eight tracks are a stream of virtual pop perfection, and the album closes on a bold and unexpected strong note, then gives us four terrific bonus tracks (and one that’s so-so). It’s a better as a cohesive unit than a collection of potential singles, as too many Spears albums have been. Glory lives up to its name, ranking there with In The Zone, Blackout, and Femme Fatale in the top tier of Britney Spears albums.

*

Thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s