The album certainly amps up the vulnerabiltiy in its opening moments. "There was a time I was one of a kind," Spears sings on "Alien," in which she and collaborator William Orbit groove with contemplation. It's bright and airy, and the tone is confident without being boastful.
The song threatens to break open, but vocal pauses aren't followed with the expected EDM freak-outs, as the track goes for a vibe that's more space-age cool and reflective. It was a good look for Madonna on "Ray of Light," and it's a good look here for Spears, certainly better than the determined-as-heck Britney shtick of the first single, "Work Bitch."
But "Alien" isn't necessarily an early indicator that "Britney Jean" is going to deviate from the pop formula. It foretells an album that, at least on first listen, is going to ricochet between emotional deep ends: the springy electro bounce of "Body Ache" on one spectrum, and the more gentle, subdued synth textures of "Perfume" on the other.
The surprise, perhaps, is that "Britney Jean" actually finds a way to rectify those deep ends more often than not. When Spears tries to split the difference between the highs and lows, "Britney Jean" is rather effective. "Till It's Gone" is full of light-speed stops-and-starts -- three and a half minutes of hands-up, hands-down moments -- and reasserts Spears' dance-floor dominance with the recognition that such moments can be fleeting.
"We're finally falling," Spears sings on "Passenger," expressing the joy of going along for the ride rather than controlling it, and "Chillin' With You" slaps together acoustic guitars and tough-girl posing, but it's all in the name of sitting around drinking wine with a buddy.
The album's potential tear-jerking moment, "Don't Cry," may come with some whistling straight out of an '80s rock ballad, but its buck-up hand claps and smiling digital blips are far more prominent. It's not you, it's us, and that's a drag, but it's going to be OK, says the song. How very ... adult.
"Britney Jean" will be available Dec. 3. Most retailers will carry some form of an expanded edition, but the 10 core tracks clock in at about 36 minutes. Look to Pop & Hiss for a more in-depth analysis of "Britney Jean" soon.