By now, you’ve possibly-maybe read my review of Britney‘s eighth studio album, Britney Jean. I don’t love it, and my thoughts haven’t changed. You might be one of the people who agreed wholeheartedly, or maybe you agreed with some bits, or maybe you thought I was way too harsh, or maybe you told me that I’m unprofessional, deserve to get AIDS and die (no, really, that happened — our world is so nice), but that’s just my truth. So I just cope. That’s what I do. I just cope with it, every day (REFERENCE).
But there’s one thing I didn’t really address in the album review, and that’s the bonus tracks.
The Britney Jean deluxe edition offers new insight into the world of Britney Spears in 2013: They’re something a little more Personalney, a little more #FromTheHeartney and, as I theoried a few weeks ago, a little more Spearitual. Also, the songs are better — certainly better than half of the EDM-drizzled “meh” taking up space on the standard edition.
Of all the ballads, “Brightest Morning Star” is perhaps my favorite “personal” songs from Britney Jean. It’s really special, and you can tell Britney wrote this one because the lyrics read like a sequel to “Someday (I Will Understand)” and “My Baby.” Co-crafted with Sia, the sweetly-sung ode to her savior (and/or her babies — they’re her religion!) does double duty as both a Christian inspirational and a genuinely solid power ballad. That bright chorus with its uplifting choir, especially (“You’re my light when it gets dark!”) feels really powerful — you can feel the Spearit moving you. (Actually, it kind of reminded me of The Lion King or something at first.) But then, there’s a touch of sadness to the track that is so, so undeniably Britney. “I lift my hands and pray, ’cause life is tough some days” — it might as well be For The Record set to music.
“Hold On Tight” or, as it’s misprinted on the back of the album, “Hold On Tite” (OY) is a really, really gorgeous (and yes, also sad!) ballad that sounds sort of mystical and glitchy all at once — almost like her Josh Schwartz and Brian Kierulf-produced Britney/In The Zone-era masterpieces, like “I Run Away” and “Don’t Hang Up.” Co-written and co-produced by Brazilian (RT FOR BRAZIL!) singer-songwriter/producer Kool Kojak (who also did Nicki Minaj‘s “Va Va Voom” and Ke$ha‘s “Blow”), the song’s full of catchy hooks and classic Britney vocals, as the living legend surrenders completely to her faith and looks to the light. “He comes to me in my dreams and tells me what I need to know / He makes me so at ease and guides me to the lights above / I just want to fall into His arms tonight.” There’s something incredibly haunting about hearing Britney Spears quiver the words “someone tell me I will be alright” in 2013. It feels, well, Personalney.
Then there’s “Now That I Found You,” which is both excellent and briefly disappointing all at the same time: The lyrics, which were (oddly) co-written by The Script‘s Danny O’Donoghue, are probably the most impressive out of the whole record. “On a shameless night in a nameless place, I thought that love was a hopeless case ’til I found you,” Britney croons on top of an atmospheric arena-rock guitar riff. The track builds and builds on a twangy Country-turned-electro beat, as Britney starts reaching higher and higher toward — you guessed it! — the light. And then, with a single Britney yelp (“Yee-ah-uh!“), B-Girl’s lovely coos dissolve into a springy stadium EDM, a la Rihanna‘s “We Found Love.” I’d probably feel less bad if it wasn’t such a shameless lift of Avicii‘s very popular “Wake Me Up,” but it’s really hard to ignore. Go ahead and listen to the Brit beat breakdown, then skip to 1:24 in “Wake Me Up” and tell me that is not the most unsubtle lift ever. C’mon, Anthony Preston and will.i.am. Britney’s never been one to sound like anyone else, so that’s depressing, but still, ignore that one slip, and this one’s still a standout. Besides, I’m quite convinced you can hear God(ney) in this song’s bridge: “All my life I’ve waited for this day!” Heaven on Earth, indeed.
All that being said, the earnestness and purity of the Britney Jean bonus tracks doesn’t change the fact that the album just doesn’t deliver the vibe I was hoping to hear from Britney. I’m not even talking about the lyrics — I mean the actual music. It’s not like she hasn’t done it before: I guess I was hoping to hear something as vibe-y and sonically intriguing as “State of Grace,” “Unusual You” and “Mona Lisa.” Instead, we got “Chillin’ With You,” “Body Ache” and “It Should Be Easy.” Not my cup of sweet tea, sorry to say. But hey — at least there’s “Alien” and “Passenger,” right?
I’m happy that Britney’s (seemingly) happy. Or, more accurately, I’m happy that Britney’s found solace in her faith and her babies. As a fan, I can only hope (at night I pray…) that this pop star thing is what she truly wants to be doing with her life. I don’t know. You don’t know. Only Britney knows her truth.
I’m choosing to move forward with cautious optimism, if only because the alternative is too bleak and sad to consider. I’m looking forward to seeing her in Vegas on New Years, and I’m looking forward to watching her documentary, I Am Britney Jean. In the end, she’s still my Brightest Morning Star.
‘Britney Jean’ will be released on December 3. (iTunes)