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For all the state-of-the-art urban production, there’s something distinctly unsavoury about Blackout. And yet, the truly bizarre thing is, the music is top notch.

Rating: 7 / 10

Peter Murphy, 16 Nov 2007

As recently as a year ago, if you’d told me I’d speculate that Britney Spears might’ve titled her fifth album Blackout as an allusion to Abel Ferrara’s 1997 alcoholic-amnesiac noir tale starring Matthew Modine, Claudia Schiffer and Beatrice Dalle, I’d have choked on my oats. But intentionally or not, Blackout may be the darkest album Britney will ever make, and every bit the treatise on jaded Roman-esque sex-excess as Manson’s Mechanical Animals or anything from Bowie’s coked-up cracked actor mid-’70s period.

I’m serious.

Don’t be fooled by the heavily treated Minnie Mouse vocals and Music-esque robotic disco moves of songs like ‘Radar’ or ‘Piece Of Me’ or ‘Break The Ice’. The in-da-club burlesque thrust of the album (not to mention the cover art, featuring Brit perched on the lap of a suspiciously male model-looking priest in the confessional) clearly references Madonna’s Erotica era. The difference is, one never got the feeling that Madge was anything other than 100% in control. If gay disco icon Laura Branigan played out secret ID/Freud ‘n’ Jungian dominance-and-submission fantasies in an endearingly daft soft-focus video for the 1984 proto hi-NRG anthem ‘Self Control’, Britney, by contrast, sometimes looks like she’s trapped inside one of those taboo role-playing dreams and can’t wake up, stumbling from one ante-chamber of the subconscious to another. For all the state-of-the-art urban production, there’s something distinctly unsavoury about Blackout. The word that comes to mind is disassociative. Brit’s bump ‘n’ grind suggests the gyrations of an abuse victim locked inside a behavioural pattern loop that damns them to seek the cruel comfort of familiar degradations. And yet, the truly bizarre thing is, the music is top notch. Tunes like ‘Heaven On Earth’, ‘Get Naked (I Got A Plan)’ and the Glitter Band-doing-‘Happy Together’ hybrid of ‘Ooh Ooh Baby’ are all satellite phone sex updates of Donna and Giorgio’s ‘Love To Love You Baby’ that could fit right in with any Derek Jarman re-envisioning of Satyricon. There are no slow jams, no syrupy weepies, no don’t-cry-for-me-Argentinas. In fact Blackout is, against all odds, a damn fine downtown electro artefact, even if it does make you feel like taking a psychic bath after a night in its company.

Rating: 7 / 10
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