Against all odds, Britney Spears's last outing, 2011's Femme Fatale, turned out to be the best album of her career, proving that she could still compete in the dance-pop diva derby against Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Rihanna. Unfortunately Britney Jean (out Tuesday) doesn't build on that creative momentum.
Surprisingly it's the uptempo tracks – and not the slower stuff – that let Spears down. None comes close to the euphoric high of Femme Fatale's "Till the World Ends." The clubby first single, "Work B––––," was campy fun initially, but it doesn't hold up well after repeat spins.
That song – and much of Britney Jean – finds Spears reteaming with "Scream & Shout" collaborator will.i.am, who serves as executive producer (and guest warbler on "It Should Be Easy"). But he largely fails to capture that same "boom boom pow" he has with his one true muse, Fergie, in the Black Eyed Peas.
Bringing David Guetta in on production helps some with the rubbery electro groove of "Body Ache," but it's really the ballads and midtempos that save this disc. They include "Perfume" and "Passenger," with writing assists from Sia and Perry. Best, though, is the ambient "Alien," which recalls producer William Orbit's work with Britney's spiritual mother: Madonna.