The aftermath of Britney Spears’ 2007 freak-out and Blackout wound up with her ceding control of her personal and professional life to her father and producers, respectively, leaving her as no more than a figurehead of an enterprise. Of course, Brit Brit had essentially been the face of a carefully calibrated pop machine for years, but every element of that contraption hinged on her persona, the songs and the sound fitting her evolution. Starting with Blackout, Britney started to slip into the background on her own records, a progression that continued unabated on Circus and finds some kind of culmination on 2011’s Femme Fatale. Essentially a cleaner, classier remake of the gaudily dark Blackout, Femme Fatale is a producer’s paradise, each cut decked out with stretched vocals, glassy keyboards, and insistent beats, all coming together in hyperactive arrangements that shift every five seconds. Sonically, it has everything except hooks, either in the rhythm or the melody; it’s all surface style, driven by sound and given shape by hypersexual lyrics Britney sings listlessly. Her name and face are on the cover but she is not at the album’s center; she is nowhere to be found amidst the clamor created by Dr. Luke, will.i.am, Bloodshy, Shellback, and Max Martin; she’s a black hole of charisma sucking everything in. Britney dutifully steps through the paces, singing enough of the words so they can be tweaked in the computer, never quite investing anything with emotion, never getting in the way of the producers, who deliver a showcase somewhat less captivating than Blackout. Surely, there are moments, sometimes stretched over a full song, that are compelling, but even these can’t erase the feeling that Britney no longer has a real, tangible personality. She’s now a reliable brand selling high-class productions designed to last not one minute longer than their season of release.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine