Britney Spears, “Perfume” (Single Review)
The time has come for the return of Balladney.
Following the release of “Work Bitch” — her sassy, spoken-word electro club anthem/Labor Day theme song dedicated to the gays back in September, Living Legend and #SomethingMoreUrban Planner Britney Jean Spears has returned to with the second single scent from above off her forthcoming album Britney Jean, the album formerly known as Blackout 2.0: It Gets Urbaner And Also More Spearitual And A Little More Personal (Raw).
True to what she’s been telling fans ever since the album was announced earlier in the year, Brit Brit’s stepping away from sweaty EDM beats and thumping club pulsations and taking down the BPM one more time for something a little more…Personalney.
So please, break out the “Everytime” promotional tissues, grab the Holy Spearit rosary beads off the shelf and prepare your bodies for salvation, ’cause Godney’s come to deliver our tears in the form of the sweetest, saddest song you’ve ever heard — or smelled.
It’s been eight years since she released an actual ballad as a single (2005’s “Someday (I Will Understand)”), which makes “Perfume” a revolutionary release by default for Britney. The actual songwriting and production was done by Sia and Chris Braide, with additional production work by will.i.am — but mercifully, he’s been mostly hands-off. The bright “Everytime”-like piano chords, orchestral stringwork and “Unusual You”-like electronic pulsations are a gorgeous compliment to Britney’s vocals, which are the forefront. The only distraction? The loud, crashing pulse during the chorus — it does take away slightly from the production.
This is where “Perfume” genuinely shines, because the vocals are the selling point. It’s not about sickening dubstep breakdowns or anthemic post-chorus chants. It’s all about Britney’s Spearitual vocals — and she’s actually singing here. Really, really singing! Britney hasn’t really utilized her lower register — or really, her full-bodied pipes — since the days of …Baby One More Time and Oops!…I Did It Again, so this one’s a serious treat for fans who remember songs like “Born To Make You Happy” and “Where Are You Now.” There’s a genuine emotion in her voice that is utterly heartbreaking (the way her voice breaks at “thinking ’bout her or about me?” alone could render a tear or two), and it should surprise a lot of people.
Thank you, Sia. Thank you, Chris: “Perfume” is Britney’s most lyrically sophisticated ballad to date, dealing with complicated emotions — jealousy! doubt! suspicion! paranoia! — which ought to make the track relatable to anyone who’s ever wondered if they’re the only lover in the picture (and/or scrolling through his texts when he leaves the room). Sia, obviously, is the master of emotion — she wrote “Breathe Me,” for God(ney)’s sake. It’s Adultney, it’s Matureney, in a way that she hasn’t truly tapped ever before.
“I want to believe it’s just you and me / Sometimes it feels like there’s three of us in here baby,” Britney coos. You see, everybody loves a good “3” (REFERENCE), but not all the time. The song plays like Britney’s inner monologue at her boudoir while getting ready for her man on Femme Fatale‘s ex-sexin’ romp, “Inside Out.”
Again, Sia’s work is known for being melodic and soulful (a perfect fit for Brit’s vocal style), and the melodies of “Perfume” are quite lovely and a little unusual (you). There are a few hooks especially (“I’ll never tell, I’ll never tell…”) that are destined to stay lodged firmly in your brain.
Top note: Fantasy
Middle note: Curious
Base note: Believe
Britney fans have had to deal with the same boring criticism since 1998: “Britney can’t sing.” Is she Celine Dion? No, she is not. But she can sing: “Perfume” is the evidence and ammunition that’s been so needed for fans for years. It’s an absolutely beautiful song. And while Britney may never release a ballad quite as devastating and raw as In The Zone‘s “Everytime” again (what could match the heartbreak of a lost first love?), this is certainly one of the best, most mature ballads she’s done since.
It’s all well and good for Britney to deliver solid dance-pop as she’s done for years now, but that’s just one part of her persona as a pop star — a piece of her, if you will. “Perfume” is an instant fan-pleaser that showcases a different side of B, and an opportunity for Britney to slay the radio in an entirely different kind of way.
The time is now for Balladney in 2013: Radio is slowly becoming more receptive to slow songs again. Just as Miley‘s managed to do with her phenomenal Bangerz power ballad “Wrecking Ball,” and Rihanna‘s done with her Unapologetic slow burner “Stay,” Britney too can have a legitimate hit with “Perfume” — that is, assuming she does some #WORKBXXCH.
Ready to take a whiff?
“Perfume” will be released on November 5. (iTunes)