Few will want to admit it, and even fewer actually will, but Britney Spears' Blackout is a scintillating, effervescent slice of post-millennium pop that will be a guilty pleasure for many in the coming months. Say what you will about the circumstances of Spears' personal life, which have certainly exceeded the threshold of outlandish, but those circumstances have no effect on her splashy radio and club-ready formula. Troubles or not, her music remains as sweet and caloric as candy corn, appealing to the hyperactive kid in all pop listeners.
Of course, Spears is not exactly a "force" to be reckoned with in the music industry in terms of legendary musical talent; Tony Bennett or Celine Dion she will never be. This is also not music for thinking people, but then with song titles like "Hot As Ice" and "Ooh Ooh Baby" that is more than implied. However, these facts alone do not invalidate Spears. The star quality that has endeared her to listeners time and time again is strong as ever on Blackout—one listen and it's hard to imagine these songs being performed by anyone else. Fitting her racy image to a T and never failing to deliver catchy, breathy pop hooks, they are as devilish as they are listenable.
On the biographical side of things, "Piece of Me" is a cheeky smorgasbord of self-referential (or self-aggrandizing, depending on how you look it) anecdotes smothered in chunky electro beats, while the Pharrell Williams-penned "Why Should I Be Sad?" provides an appropriate closer to a collection of songs otherwise grounded in levity with its bittersweet, resilient attitude set against the by now predictable (though nonetheless enjoyable) production work of the Neptunes.
"Gimme More," the set's lead single and Spears' highest chart feature on the Billboard Hot 100 since 1999, is one of the less notable tracks here compared to the trippy, atypical wordplay that marks "Radar" and the downright infectious "Get Naked (I Got a Plan)," a surefire highlight. Hi-NRG beats pulse throughout selections, such as the dancefloor-ready "Heaven On Earth" and "Toy Soldier," which has enough kitschy fun for a cult '80s flick.
Throughout the collection Spears is the ultimate seductress, oozing sex appeal and passion. By the time she coos "you make me feel so hot" throughout the lush "Perfect Lover," the second to last track, it's impossible to doubt her. May she now be a bonafide pop siren in the same league as Kylie Minogue? Possibly.
Jailhouse visits and custody hearings aside, Spears gives listeners reason for hope with Blackout, easily her best and definitely her most intriguing outing to date, even when factoring in her 2004 hits compilation. Oddly enough, she has never sounded more comfortable in her own skin, making this album feel like a debut. Gone are the artistic pretensions that marred her last two albums (she is a performer, not a songwriter), and her material has taken a major upgrade in class. This music is able to self-sustain without the aid of shock value or infamous MTV kissing scene stunts because in and of itself it is purely entertaining. All she needs is for her image to correspond, and she will have her life as well as her career back on track.