‘I’ve poured my heart and soul into this album over the last two years. I’ve put everything I have into it… Sexy and strong. Dangerous yet mysterious. Cool yet confident. Femme fatale.’ Of course, for a while, this femme was running perilously close to fatal, rather than fatale, but now Britney Spears seems to be out of her weird-behaviour wormhole and is stepping once more into the spotlight.
The landscape of US chart pop may not have changed radically since her last album (2008), but if this record demonstrates one thing, it’s the impact of the likes of Katy Perry and Ke$ha, and of Glee –and the fact that Rihanna is now the blueprint for contemporary female pop. Producers Dr Luke and Max Martin return, joined by Benny Bianco, Darkchild and will.i.am, among others, who all clearly had in mind the darkly modernist, electrohouse sonics of Rihanna’s Rated R. That album’s juddering basslines, drum machine wallop and sexed-up attitude have been applied almost everywhere, to in-your-face and on-the-floor effect.
The result is very much of our time (there are hints of Kanye’s latest and of Major Lazer), but also slightly behind the curve (the thumping nu-Eurodisco of ‘Trip to Your Heart’, the borrowing of dubstep’s distorted wobble for the woofer-blowing ‘Seal it With a Kiss’). Britney’s vocals are a multi-tracked emollient on ‘Inside Out’ and so heavily treated on ‘(Drop Dead) Beautiful’ she sounds barely human. Precisely the aim, natch. Femme Fatale is the sound of US premier-league pop recycling itself, but if there’s nothing of Britney’s bared soul à la Blackout here, so what? As she says on ‘Trouble for Me’: ‘If you want my love, you can only find it on the dancefloor.’ No compass required.