RCA Records; $11.88
Britney Spears’ latest release, “Britney Jean,” is a total letdown. It’s not that we expect Adele-styled songs from Spears — or even Rihanna-like ones — but Spears was once a pop powerhouse who made music considered a must-listen, from “Toxic” to “I’m a Slave 4 U.” Listening to this album makes you nostalgic for those days — nothing on “Britney Jean” would be contenders for any future greatest hits package.
The 10-track set lacks oomph, swag, sex appeal, as well as addictive, memorable hooks. It’s almost like Spears isn’t even present. Tracks like “It Should Be Easy” and “Till It’s Gone” are techno misses — and messes. The light ballad and second single, “Perfume,” is laughable, with Spears warbling: “And while I wait, I put on my perfume, yeah I want it all over you, I’m gonna mark my territory.” It sounds more like a commercial than an actual song (it should be noted that Spears has released a dozen perfumes, including two this year).
“Perfume” was co-written by Sia, the ultra-talented singer who has found success writing Rihanna’s “Diamonds” and tunes for Christina Aguilera, Katy Perry and Eminem. Another star, will.i.am, is the executive producer of Spears’ eighth album. Are they purposely giving her C- and D-level material?
While “Britney Jean” has its upbeat moments, the album is one of Spears’ slowest. The singer said some songs draw from her recent breakup, but she doesn’t capture emotion that will make you a believer with this batch of tracks.
Blame It All On My Roots
Garth Brooks offers fans a Christmas gift with a discount-priced box set that takes a look back rather than moving forward.
“Blame It All On My Roots” is an eight-disc package. Four CDs are devoted to the Oklahoman covering classic songs from country, rock, soul and acoustic singer-songwriters. Two CDs are a previously available greatest-hits double disc set and two DVDs present a recorded concert in Las Vegas and most of his old music videos.
The covers lean heavy on songs nearly every listener will know, giving it a Garth-does-karaoke feel. “Heard It Through The Grapevine,” “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Great Balls Of Fire” and “Mrs. Robinson” are among the choices — songs still heard across America daily on the radio. There’s not a song among the 40 new cuts that presents a lesser-known song important to Brooks.
Brooks connects best with the country covers: His version of Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya” and a duet with wife Trisha Yearwood on “After The Fire Is Gone” deserve airplay.
On the other hand, the soul songs suffer from canned arrangements and from Brooks straining to bring Wilson Pickett-style growls and grunts to vocals that are otherwise serviceable, but never remarkable. The Nashville studio musicians do better at injecting life into classic rock and the songwriter albums, staying exceedingly faithful to the originals.
Brooks’ fans will enjoy hearing their hero sing these familiar songs. But will it bring him new fans, expand his audience or help him find new glory more than a decade after his retirement? That will have to wait for his return to recording original material.
What’s the mother of the average American tween to do as the holidays approach? Miley has twerked her way out of the stocking, for sure. Justin Bieber invites too many questions. And most of the women of pop are exploring very adult themes that are rated at least PG-13.
One Direction steps into that giant void, providing nervous mothers with the perfect gift: “Midnight Memories.” The album is full of positive choruses and playful — not pornographic — takes on love and life. Smartly promoted around release, the third album from the British boy band is definitely mom bait.
It’s a pretty good record, too. The quintet has released a lot of music in a short period of time, usually a challenge for young acts.
Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson take baby steps forward from their two platinum-selling 2012 releases, “Up All Night” and “Take Me Home,” adding some musical edge and variety, mostly through the use of turned-up guitars and hit surfing through the mom-friendly 1980s.
“Diana,” for instance, is all Sting and The Police as the boys hop on that burgeoning bandwagon. The title track references Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me” in a way that’s oddly pleasing. And “Does He Know?” covers the same ground musically and thematically as Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl.”
While the quintet is flirtatious, they never move beyond the casual come-on, and their paramores are painted as sassy and smart, usually turning down that invitation to go home with one of the boys. The rockin’ “Little Black Dress” is about as spicy as it gets with its chorus of, “I wanna see the way you move for me, baby.” Unlike most of their pop-music colleagues, bad girls are definitely not cool here, as they note on “Little White Lies.”
The music is inclusive, too, as the group often paints itself as a refuge of sorts. “If you ever feel alone, don’t/ You were never on your own/ And the proof is in this song,” they sing on “Don’t Forget Where You Belong.”
And that’s the kind of message every mom can get behind.