Posted by: Karenannanina on: September 6, 2016
The sources who claimed that Britney’s Glory would be a very different kind of album for her were not wrong. Some have tried to define its position in her oeuvre by comparing it to In The Zone, but those people ARE wrong. ITZ was a collection of unique but separate little gems, all totally different and unrelated to each other musically, where Glory, for all its oddities, is a more consistent – or less diverse – body of work. Yet this IS a collection, not an “auteur” creation – no producer has provided more than 3 of the 17 tracks on the Deluxe Edition.
The songs on ITZ were linked by their powerful sexual content, and at the time I felt that ITZ might just be Britney’s version of Madonna’s Erotica. The songs on Glory are also linked by their sexual content, but there the comparison with ITZ ends. It could be argued that here we have a Britneyfied version of Janet Jackson’s Unbreakable, surely the gold standard for moody, erotic albums with interesting rhythms and subtly addictive melody lines interspersed with a few bangers. But that argument depends on one’s perception of Glory as a whole.
And there’s scope for some very different perceptions. One is that it displays a frisky, re-energised Britney delivering fun, beat-filled sexy songs with unexpected gusto, interspersing them with softly sung chillout mood-sustainers. Another is that it was originally meant to be an album of intricate, rather adult songs about sex and relationships, but “her people” panicked, wanted an each-way bet, and introduced counterbalance in the shape of brash, noisy exploits with unfamiliar beats and crass, bombastic lyrics. Karen Kwak, the album’s Executive Producer, suggests that an interpretation involving fun and randomness is the more accurate one. To me, it all seems a little bit schizophrenic, but maybe I’ve forgotten how to have fun.
Some reviewers have picked on the lyrics, or individual lines within the lyrics, to submit Glory to a lit-crit evaluation from which it could never emerge well. The lyrical content of pop music doesn’t interest me much, except insofar as certain key phrases leap out, although I’m obviously not deaf to the fact that a lot of these songs are about hooking up. But if we work on the basis that in pop music, with only a few exceptions, the words are merely a vehicle for a singer’s performance, I won’t pick a fight over them. To say that Glory is an album about sex is about as useful as saying that Circus is an album about diversity. To adopt one reviewer’s sensible phrase, “That’s what she sings about”.
What interests me more about this album is the rhythmic content. This is the area that differs most from anything Britney has done before. There is huge rhythmic variety among these tracks, yet, contrarily, you might get the wrong initial impression that the same track has been made several times over. You might think of applying this thoughtless thought to (for instance) Just Luv Me, Slumber Party and Love Me Down. The snarky might feel called upon to allege that these tracks don’t go anywhere. Yet they do have an important role, a kind of cumulative effect, in the album, and they are given individuation by those varied beats.
It’s also a good idea to remember that on a typical album, it’s love at first sight with some songs, instant dislike with others, and takes-time-to-get-to-know-ya with others. On Glory, more than on most albums, there are quite a few quiet little tracks that take time to reveal themselves fully and become memorable. But when they do, songs that started out with an “OK” rating may escalate to “Good” or even “Excellent”.
There are sonic differences on Glory too. In the past, many of the productions on Britney’s albums have been set within a tightly spaced, narrow acoustic framework, so crowded as to seem almost claustrophobic. On Glory we find some grander, more reverberant acoustics and bigger, more spacious soundstages. The productions are excellent and imaginative throughout. The instrumental work is mostly sparse but clever, innovative and appropriate. Much use is made of different vocal textures and effects, wordless vocalization, surprising interjections and cute spoken sections. Much of this happened on Britney’s previous albums too, but here they get enough space and clarity to stand out and make an impact.
Several other reviewers have struggled for something smart to say in disparagement of Britney’s voice on Glory, but they have mostly missed the mark. Her voice is not particularly “adenoidal”, “strangulated”, “robotic” (and blah blah) here. Indeed, it’s a lot less eccentric than usual. Her metallic “sex Kitten” voice emerges on a couple of tracks, certainly, but a lot less often than on Femme Fatale, the nadir for Britney’s vocal listenability. Here her voice is mostly in her super-smooth, super-sweet high or mid-register (13 of 17 tracks) but with many variations within that general style. The only obvious criticism from a fan’s point of view is that she rarely sounds as distinctive and “different” as the Britney everyone imitates.
As usual on Britney albums, the bonus tracks on the Deluxe Edition seem better than some of the songs on the main album. But then, that’s a matter of taste. Liar is fabulously dramatic, Coupure Electrique utterly charming, and If I’m Dancing has a melody that sticks in the head like Gorilla Glue. There are wonderful highlights on the album, but the beauty of Invitation, Make Me, and Man on the Moon is counterbalanced by the irredeemable ugliness of Clumsy, What You Need and Private Show
Let’s take a look at the individual tracks.
A brilliant opening to the album, and an absolute standout track. Definitely from the Janet Jackson playbook, it’s slow-to-medium, has a gorgeous melody, and receives an achingly sweet and fervent performance from Britney in her highest, most ethereal pitch. Invitation sets the mood and temperature that the other chillout tracks follow.
Do You Wanna Come Over?
A grinding beat drives the verses as Britney delivers an unashamed booty-call in suitably seductive style in a song that’s full of different episodes, hooks and variety. The pre-chorus “Nobody should be alone if they don’t have to be” is sweeter-voiced but urgent. Then the men come stomping in with the thundering chorus “Whatever you want!” underpinned by Britney’s legato purring. “Do you wanna come over?” is spoken and sounds almost pleading. Wonderful!
A lovely melody and a very well-structured song, building tension and releasing expertly. Britney alternates between her sweet high register and her seductive mid-range. She even manages to include her famous “Mmm-yeah”! G-Eazy’s rap break doesn’t please everybody, but at least it’s clearly enunciated and there’s no mention of vegetables. The instrumental tracks chime supportively. Another standout track.
A throwback to a lost era of doo-wop soul dating back to the early 1960s. Britney wails the lyrics in a strong but extremely unsubtle voice, sounding more like the popular caricatures of herself than on almost any other track on the album. The backing tracks riff their triplets strongly. It’s crass but amusing, and has its highlights, such as Britney’s amazingly high notes after the bridge, and her “We do it all again? Nah, I’ll take a bow!” I must remember that line for future use…
Man On The Moon
Another of the excellent tracks, this is another well-constructed song, with an attractive and instantly memorable tune echoing the pure-and-simple pop of the 1960s. There is one issue: at first, Britney’s voice sounds strained on certain words, and especially “moon”, but I should have known better – it’s actually an effect caused by the interaction of her voice with that of the male backup singer. Better mixing would have done wonders. Incidentally, there can’t be many songs featuring the words “Patience, darling!”
Just Luv Me
This is one of those soft, gentle tracks that make little impact at first hearing, and Britney sings it in her softest, gentlest, wispiest voice. It’s OK-becoming-good. Janet J. has chillout mood-sustainers like this on her albums too. Soon they become indispensable as we get to know their special little instrumental sounds, and for some weird reason, they pop up and play in our heads at unexpected moments. The production is swirly, atmospheric and graceful.
Another of those odd, churning 1960s retro-rhythms, and a sound reminiscent of what used to be called a “blues band”. A generic and uninteresting melody finds Britney’s regrettable “robotic sex kitten” voice getting an airing. There’s lots of call-and-response and chanting, and a cute little-girly “Oops!” here and there, and Britney’s odd pronunciation of the word “clumsy” is rather charming. But I don’t like it. I expect to skip this track on future playings of the album – or better still, omit it altogether from my personal re-edit.
Another very Janet-sounding track, this seemed like a mere mood-sustainer at first, but since then I’ve re-evaluated it (and re-re-evaluated it) upwards. There are so many hooks, melodic, lyrical, vocal, and instrumental, that it’s now unforgettable, and definitely one of my favorite songs on the album. There’s a lot going on in the production. The special little moments where everything goes quiet are pure magic. The words are pretty rude but who cares!
Just Like Me
A mood-sustainer, or one of a body of more intimate songs aimed at an older and more mature audience? This time the rhythm is a Latinish sway (and there’s acoustic guitar and castanets!). Some have theorized that it’s Britney’s comeback to Timberlake’s Cry Me A River video. But she’s not like that, and it was a long time ago. Anyway, it’s sung sweetly and without apparent malice, and there’s some lovely smooth vocalizing at the end.
Love Me Down
Lovely, wonderfully complex interlocking vocal effects as the song proceeds, and yet again a piece notable mainly for its rhythm, which is much jumpier this time. Gets an OK, since neither music nor words are particularly distinctive. By this stage in listening to the album, one can no longer entertain the view that these low-key, dreamy meditations are mere “fillers” between the major works. There are just too many of them. They must, in fact, be integral to the very point of the album. However, given that, there must be scope for some creativity in putting together a customized album with a different running order.
Hard To Forget Ya
A lively, jumpy retro rock-and-roll rhythm, but an unoriginal melody, and doesn’t really get us anywhere. It fails to amuse or to entertain. Another great production makes the best of the material, and Britney tries to give it added value with some varied vocals, but in my mind this would join its soulmate Clumsy in the “omit” list.
What You Need
It’s that 60s blues band again, with lots of Hammond organ and brass, and another contribution to the already replete “burlesque” category. It’s like a particularly thick-eared, dumb response to Aguilera’s Ain’t No Other Man, and Britney sounds like the worst parody of herself, with “may” instead of “me” etc. Let’s hope it was all a joke. “That was fun!” chirrups Ms Spears at the end. Er…. no.
Again Latin-flavored, with a mid-tempo chugging rhythm. Another Janet-sounding track, another mood-sustainer, pleasant to listen to and smoothly sung, with swirling airy effects and lots of wordless vocalizing, but one of the less memorable tracks. At first, I rated it as OK rather than good, but now I find it playing in my head every day, so.. upgrade!
Change Your Mind (No seas cortes)
This time the Latin inspiration is overt. There’s a gently swaying rhythm with a touch of flamenco drama. The sweet vocals are more distinctively Britney than on some of the other tracks, and there are some appealing hooks, including the lines sung in Spanish. Faced with a gentilhombre who’s either nervous or trying to behave himself, horny Britney tries to change his mind. I like it a lot, but aren’t some of these tracks getting close to MOR territory? (Or, given the many Latin-ish tracks, to Emma Bunton’s A Girl Like Me?) Just a thought…..
This is one of the standouts. An excellent piece of drama in its music, its words, and its lush string-enhanced production. It starts and ends with growling men chanting, there’s bluesy harmonica and automated hand-clapping and Britney delivers in her most seductive mid-range. It’s truly memorable in its melody and its structure. If this had Rihanna’s name on it, or Adele’s, it would be a single and would be a smash.
If I’m Dancing
There’s so much to like about this song. On an initial hearing, it doesn’t sound like much, but then you realize that you’re singing it to yourself an hour later. The production is colourful and imaginative, with what sounds like wasps fighting in a jar here and sumptuous synth-strings there, and Britney’s voice wafts breathily in its highest, most unaffected register. I’m not sure what the male interjections add to the proceedings though.
An utterly charming way to end the album. The lyrics in French add allure to the loveliness, the melody is gorgeous and Britney is engaging, but it’s all over far too soon. I’m not entirely sure about Britney’s pronunciation of “coupure”, but I don’t feel inclined to bash her for that. A beautiful ending to the album.
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