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Britney Spears: Femme Fatale
It is no secret that Britney Spears has been through a rough couple of years. What with battling bipolar disorder, being under conservatorship and custody entanglements, all under the ruthless lens of Hollywood, many of her fans thought that the old, free-spirited, In the Zone Spears would never grace their music players again. After the release of her recent, auto-tuned mess of albums Blackout and Circus, the trepidation and apprehension surrounding the release of her 7th studio record, Femme Fatale, was completely understandable.
You might want to get your critical thinking caps off, because Britney Spears just put these doubts to acute, incontrovertible shame. Femme Fatale is the comeback album every hardcore devotee has been waiting for, and the perfect introduction to the new Miss Spears for any prospective fan.
The most noticeable, and arguably the best, part about Femme Fatale is the return of the sassy, breathy-sexy Britney vocals that we all love. The vocal processing and auto-tune is far less noticeable on this record than on her two previous, post-meltdown albums. Instead of masking her voice, they compliment it in a way that is guaranteed to make the listener raise an impressed eyebrow, if not both. Her vocals come off as more confident and strong, as opposed to the sleepy, nonchalant way she used to sing in Blackout and Circus, providing listeners with this new, fierce and in-your-face idea of the southern pop star.
It is quite clear from the beginning that Spears’s aim with this album was to get her listeners out on the dance floor, dancing and working up a sweat till they see the sunlight. Femme Fatale is riddled with thumping bass lines, intense, grinding beats and catchy lyrics that will surely make you want to get up and dance/sing along.
Her opening track, 'Till the World Ends' is guaranteed to become a dance floor anthem this summer, along with the single, ‘I Wanna Go’. Catchy as these songs may be, tracks like 'He About To Lose Me' and ‘Inside Out’ might appeal more to listeners, since their lyrics speak on a more personal level as opposed to the ‘get-on-the-dance-floor’ theme of the afore mentioned two.
Needless to say, some of the songs featured are not that powerful and do not fit with the overall feel of the record. ‘Trip to Your Heart’ is this sweet, melodious ballad that is almost dull and monotonous, and the song 'How I Roll' is not as alluring as the other tracks.
This summer will witness a new era of Spears on the music industry, and while this album may stick heavily to her pop, electro roots, it will surely satisfy a wide range of tastes. Whether you need a quick pick me up on your way to work, or provide electrifying, mood setting music on the beach, expect to hear Femme Fatale blasting through the speakers on a lot of dance floors this summer!
Album opener ‘San Angeles’ will get feet moving and booties shaking, but the rest of the album is decidedly more post-rock oriented. The influences of Pink Floyd only really make a grand appearance on psychedelic tune ‘Lunar Drift’, with its spooky synths and echoing bass line.
‘The Eliminator’ takes the listener back to the eighties again, as the repetitive electronic beat that is used sounds a lot like the 8-bit sounds that were the backdrop for many early eighties video games. Imagine the aforementioned desert wasteland turning 8-bit coloured.
The eighties also dominate in the strummed intro to ‘Martin Rev’, evoking memories of Survivor’s ‘Eye of the Tiger’. You’d almost think the guys of Maserati had wished they were making music a few decades ago.
There comes a time in everyone’s life when it's time for reflection; time to escape the rat race and go back to basics. Usually, this time is spent at some desolate place, like a cabin in the woods or some far away beach on a desert island; somewhere one can fully recharge and shift their focus back to what’s really important.
English singer-songwriter, Ed Harcourt, seems to have done just that on his new record Back into the Woods. But instead of a cabin in the woods or a tropical beach resort, Harcourt went back to basics at the famous Abbey Road Studios in London. The nine songs were written in a month and recorded in just six hours.
The end result is melancholic, but utterly beautiful, in all its naked simplicity. There’s a piano, an electric guitar and his wife on the violin, but that is all Harcourt has taken with him to create this record. The use of dubbed vocals on a handful of tracks, and an organ beefing up the bare framework of the song ‘Brothers and Sisters’, is as frivolous as this album gets.
It seems Harcourt returning to basics has paved the way for some lyrical introspection, as well. “You’ve got the good bits from your mother and the bad parts from me” and “pay no heed to good advice” he sings to his daughter on ‘Hey Little Bruiser’. He serenades his wife on ‘Wandering Eye’ as he muses, “I remember when I first saw you/I couldn’t move I was paralysed,” and on ‘The Pretty Girls’ he states “I always feel like the monster in this fairy tale."
In ‘The Cusp and the Wane’ the singer-songwriter tells us that Mozart died a pauper and that William Blake was ridiculed. “Let’s hear it for the underdog,” he sings – he might as well be singing about himself.
It’s always been a bit of a mystery how Jeff Buckley-esque singers and songwriters, such as Rufus Wainwright and Damien Rice, have managed to amass huge fan followings over the years, yet Harcourt still operates under the radar of the general music-loving audience.
It’s not like he hasn’t got the talent. Harcourt’s oeuvre is littered with brilliant compositions, most notably on the Mercury Prize nominated' Here Be Monsters (2001), The Beautiful Lie (2006) and Lustre (2010). They can certainly compete with the musical accomplishments of the likes of Rice, Wainwright and even Buckley, yet somehow, until now, Harcourt has failed to get as much attention. And that’s a real shame.
So here’s a free tip if you’re into singer-songwriters (especially the aforementioned ones): do yourself a favour and buy not only Back into the Woods, but Harcourt’s entire seven album discography. You won’t regret it.