Hear Me Out: Britney Spears hits us, baby, one more time

By Chris Azzopardi

Britney Spears, 'Femme Fatale'

Razors stowed and sanity in check, pop's queen of comebacks is ready to forget about her tabloid-making troubles - and have sex. Lots and lots of sex. She's hooking up with an ex even though she knows she shouldn't on "Inside Out," admiring a man's massive package on "(Drop Dead) Beautiful" and, on the insanely catchy "I Wanna Go," letting go of her inhibitions. "Shame on me," she sings - without any shame at all. Indeed, Britney's a bad girl, but who's gonna fault her? "Femme Fatale," her seventh studio album, is near-perfect pop - hooky, horny and heavy on the bangin' beats, but how much of that's because of Britney is still, a decade into her career, unclear. (Let's be real: She can't sing. She can't write - remember that song about her baby? Uh yeah.) Spears is the finger puppet played by a team responsible for putting on the show - producers, songwriters, even the photographer who took that fittingly flirty cover pic. Sometimes they do her right ("Blackout"). Sometimes they do her wrong ("Circus"). Here, they're right on - so right, actually, that "Femme Fatale" is Britney's masterwork, boosted by one of those career best-ofs: "Criminal," a flute-flecked song about falling for a bad boy that echoes early Madonna. Next to "Hold It Against Me," "Till the World Ends," a dreamy dance-floor concoction co-written by Ke$ha, is obviously the better of the two singles. It's only a matter of time, fingers crossed anyway, before "How I Roll" becomes one - it's dirtied-up bubblegum pop with f-bombs and irresistible clickety-clacks. On it, she sings one of the album's truest lines: "I got nine lives like a kitty cat." Hear her purr. Grade: B+

Jennifer Hudson, 'I Remember Me'

According to Jennifer Hudson's new album, she hasn't forgotten who she is. But anyone who heard her generic, mishandled debut - from a music perspective anyway - probably did. Seems, however, that the super-lunged singer has a better handle on her own self after tragedy struck her family, she had her first kid, she got married, she lost a lot of weight - "some things," as she refers to them on the disc opener. Her second CD feels more like the star-making moment expected from her debut, and if ever an album said "and I am telling you I'm not going," it's this one. It escapes the trendy tinkering of her first disc for something more Jenny from the block, helping Hudson to channel her old-soul on songs like Elton-esque "No One Gonna Love You" and the easy-going "Why Is It So Hard." That it's hard to separate J. Hud "The Singer" from J. Hud "The Human" only works in her favor - Diane Warren's from-the-recycling-bin ballad "Still Here" is given far more weight because of a vocal driven by personal pain and passion. But for all of Hudson's hardships, "I Remember Me" doesn't wallow; in fact, it does quite the opposite - it's a journey of healing that even Oprah could get behind. She's "Feeling Good" on the covered-to-death cut and reveling in her man on disco-rewind "Don't Look Down," one of three solid Alicia Keys contributions. When Hudson's not on cloud nine, she's peeved (decent first single "Where You At") and, on the title track, finding herself again. She remembers, and now so can we. Grade: B

Also Out

The Sounds, 'Something to Die For'

For nearly a decade, the Swedish retro-rock band's been an anthem-making machine. These 10 songs come off that assembly line - but someone forgot the hooks. Still, The Sounds sell their more-pop-than-ever pieces with as much moxie as a girl manning a lemonade stand, and a lot of that has to do with the addictive wail of Maja Ivarsson, who still sounds like she belongs in Blondie. They triumph when she's a melancholic mess, as she is on "Wish You Were Here" and "The Best of Me." Their best? Not even close.

'Glee': The Music, Vol. 5

By now, you know what to expect from "Glee": cheesy takes on pop songs. That's exactly what the fifth, and worst, mishmash of music from our favorite choir kids offers. Uh, where's the theatrical magic, though? Sure, Lea Michele out-sings Katy Perry on "Firework" (not hard), but this is essentially professional karaoke. Even the two originals, outcast anthem "Loser Like Me" and Michele's "Get It Right," fail to impress. And when the best thing about "Glee" songs is Gwyneth Paltrow - her "Landslide" is especially poignant - maybe it's time for New Directions to take, well, a new direction.

Reach Chris Azzopardi at chris@pridesource.com.
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