Britney Spears has always been a bit of a mystery.
How much does the superstar have to do with her albums? Does she have an artistic vision? What does the 29-year-old mother of two really think about?
We really have no idea. She's done countless interviews and photo shoots, but never really explained herself well -- even her reality show "Chaotic," with her ex-husband, Kevin Federline, didn't offer much insight.
On Tuesday, "Femme Fatale" (Jive) hits stores with even less explanation than usual, as Spears plans to maintain a low profile for the release of her seventh studio album.
Sure, she'll be making appearances -- on "Good Morning America" and MTV Tuesday, on Nickelodeon's "Kids Choice Awards" Saturday. But there won't be much in-depth analysis in any of those places, either.
"I think 'Femme Fatale' speaks for itself," Spears says in a statement. "I wanted to make a fierce dance record where each song makes you want to get up and move." Well, OK. She actually accomplishes that on "Femme Fatale."
Spears and her team of producers and songwriters have created a remarkable album of entertaining, European-club-influenced dance pop, with numerous potential singles that will likely follow the lead track, "Hold It Against Me," up the charts to No. 1.
After all, the current single, "Till the World Ends," also mines that ground, with its anthemic Europop chorus of echoing "Woah ooh whoa oh oh oh oh-oh" that Spears and producers Dr. Luke and Max Martin have appropriated from David Guetta and, with some help from Ke$ha, twisted into a mix more appealing to American radio. "I Wanna Go" offers a similar groove, though it also adds whistling, while "Trip to Your Heart" raises Spears' natural voice a few keys to give the song a lighter feel.
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That production trick is part of what makes "Femme Fatale" so unusual. When a song requires a different mood or a different approach, Spears doesn't change her delivery, Team Britney changes everything that surrounds her voice.
It's the aural equivalent of what happened when Spears was in her "Blackout" period and couldn't quite keep up with her backing dancers. She simply stood still or moved slowly while the dancers moved double-time around her to give the appearance she was actually dancing.
"Femme Fatale" is eerily devoid of any emotion or personality, thanks to the AutoTuning of Spears' voice and the slicker-than-slick production. Maybe that's because it's easier to appeal to a larger group of fans if you offer no real characteristics for them to dislike. Or maybe it's part of Spears' plan to keep some things private, avoiding the paparazzi who have hounded her for years -- an image that is central to the video for "Hold It Against Me."
The only glimpses we really get of Spears' choices as a singer come in the sly phrasing she gives in her meat-market-bar-worthy come-ons, such as "If I said, 'I want your body now,' would you hold it against me?" and "I can be the treble, baby, you can be the bass."
Of course, most Britney fans probably don't come to her for deep emotional connections. They generally come to dance. And she doesn't disappoint, utilizing the "no ballads" rule once again for "Femme Fatale."
Songwriter Claude Kelly, who co-wrote the title track to Spears' "Circus" album and "Gasoline" on "Femme Fatale," says Spears sounds "fresh and clean" on all the tracks. "The singles are only the tip of the iceberg," Kelly says. "This is going to be her year, pop-wise."
Spears and her team certainly offer a variety of grooves, though nothing really comes close to her envelope-pushing delivery in "Womanizer" or her career-high "Toxic."
The closest she gets to that kind of forward thinking is the charmingly simple "How I Roll," which combines '60s girl-group pop, popping-bubbles sound effects and lots of clicking and clacking.
There's a hip-hop vibe to "Inside Out," which owes a bit to Ciara's "Like a Boy," and a cartoonish feel to "Big Fat Bass" that comes with almost every collaboration with Black Eyed Pea will.i.am. "Gasoline" pairs a bit of moaning and groaning to a catchy groove and a trance-influenced chorus.
"Femme Fatale" offers so many different dance styles that it's hard to pin down where Spears is trying to go, though she is the only thing holding this eclectic mix together.
How does she do it? Well, it's all part of the mystery.
BOTTOM LINE Team Britney scores a sonic touchdown
The evolution of Britney
BY GLENN GAMBOA, firstname.lastname@example.org
On her new album, "Femme Fatale," Britney Spears introduces the world to her latest incarnation -- the club-going flirt. Here's a look at her previous personalities and how they fared:
... BABY ONE MORE TIME
WHO'S BRIT NOW? An eager-to-please ex-Mouseketeer ready to lead her fellow teens in the bubble-gum pop revolution.
TELLING LYRIC "Show me how you want it to be." (From " ... Baby One More Time")
SALES 14 million
OOPS! ... I DID IT AGAIN
WHO'S BRIT NOW? A bona fide teen superstar and budding club star with her own dance craze.
TELLING LYRIC "My loneliness ain't killing me no more, I'm stronger." (From "Stronger")
SALES 10 million
WHO'S BRIT NOW? "Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman"
TELLING LYRIC "All you people look at me like I'm a little girl. Well did you ever think it'd be OK for me to step into this world." (From "I'm a Slave 4 U")
SALES 4 million
IN THE ZONE
WHO'S BRIT NOW? A Grammy-winning artiste and Madonna protégé
TELLING LYRIC "I'm up against the speaker, tryin' to take on the music. It's like a competition, me against the beat." (From "Me Against the Music")
SALES 2 million
WHO'S BRIT NOW? A tabloid-targeted mess, looking unprepared and unprofessional for the first time.
TELLING LYRIC "They're still gonna put pictures of my derriere in the magazine." (From "Piece of Me")
WHO'S BRIT NOW? The comeback queen
TELLING LYRIC "I'm like the ringleader, I call the shots. I'm like a firecracker, I make it hot." (From "Circus")
SALES 1.5 million