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LABEL: Jive Records RELEASE DATE: January 12, 1999 GENRE: Pop
// review by Jeff

The former Queen of Pop's debut album got the best of all of us!

Do you remember a much simpler time before Britney Spears started popping out babies every week? Can you recall a time when Kevin Federline had practically zero relation to her before he swept her off her feet and into the wide world of matrimony? The young folks out there probably can't remember that far back, but hopefully us older ragamuffins can give it a shot. Think back to 1998: what was probably playing on the radio? ...Baby One More Time by Britney Spears, most likely. The teen pop universe just couldn't get enough of that song. I believe I was thirteen years old when that first single hit the airwaves, and not surprisingly, I was hooked just like millions upon millions of others around the world. It was suddenly the anthem for pop music, and the once-Mouskateer suddenly because an international music superstar. So when the album struck stores in the first quarter of 1999, I think it's safe to assume that there was a mad frenzied rush to music shops -- after all, the album "...Baby One More Time" has sold over 20 million copies to date! This means that it absolutely MUST be great.... right? ...RIGHT?!?!

Well, sort of. It didn't garner positive critical acclaim across the nation. However, such is the case of most (nay, all) teen pop releases. After all, the images of young men and women being portrayed as squeaky clean, as überexcellent lovers but also as überpraisers of virginity as well, certainly clashes with life's more bitter reality. Parents might approve of this cheesy and falsified view of modern youth culture, but innocence is not as common as they wish. So teen pop did not represent anything real, and was produced merely as sugar-coated melodies fired off at young people to make them mindlessly happy and buy the product. On the other hand, Britney Spears was cute. So nobody loses, eh? But looks don't make the record: music does. So I must ask the question: does the MUSIC on this album warrant the ebullience it received?

All it really takes is a peek at the title track, ...Baby One More Time, to get the general idea about this entire record. She's pretty much crooning about how she regrets letting her significant other go from their relationship, and wants to get back together for... um... some purpose, but only once more! Let's just get one thing out in the open: when you're asking some to "hit" you once more time, you're probably not asking for a beating. I get the feeling that she just wants a quick romp in the sack; there goes that virgin pop icon status. I need not also bring up the music video which has her in a Catholic schoolgirl uniform. Oh goodness. The song itself was amazingly catchy back in 1998. But now, in 2007, the song seems to have lost its magic. It also sounds like it comes straight out of a computer program designed to output standard pop music... Hmmm... I can see why it was so popular, but it bears a bland quality that I couldn't see in my foggy early-teen period.

Then there is (You Drive Me) Crazy, which was another single from the album. This song was remixed slightly (with Britney shouting "STOP!" before the bridge) and used for the soundtrack of the mind-boggling teen flick "Drive Me Crazy" starring Melissa Joan Hart (who consequently appears in the music video). I actually went to see that movie in the theatre, but it was with a girl so it was justified. The movie confused me within the first ten minutes, and that's all I remember about the movie. As for the song, it's also a jazzy little dance ditty with some electric guitar use buried in the background of the chorus (although it could be synthesized) and the message behind the song is obvious from the title alone. It feels like standard pop, but didn't quite have the ultimate hook of "...Baby One More Time".

Yet another single from the album was a soft ballad, Sometimes, which explores the simple confusions of love. It's mellow, that's for sure. Yet it shows that Ms. Spears can handle the more demure aspects of singing about the ways of love -- one needn't dance all the time, after all. This is likely the most memorable of slow songs on the album, as the others tend to get lost in the fold. It's nice to listen to Sometimes, as it feels like less of a fluff-fest than other songs typical of this style. But Soda Pop brings up the energy... with a more reggae feel. Interestingly enough, Britney does not sing the chorus herself; instead, it is sung by some generic male backup singers (plus one particularly standout male vocals which speaks with a strong Jamaican accent). Yet this is not a vehicle for the voice of Britney Spears, as she is only heard about half as much as on a regular song. This song also displays a stylistic departure from the previous three tracks, and actually feels a bit out of place here; consequently, I will skip it over altogether during a listening session.

The Britney Spears I used to love.Born To Make You Happy is a song that I remember playing over and over just to listen to the first five seconds of it. In fact, just as I am writing this review, I am doing just that -- playing the first five seconds over and over, trying to recapture the lost joy. It's still there! This was another single from the album, which is another ballad-style tune but certainly more uptempo than "Sometimes". The message of the title, however, gives me a bit of a negative impression, escalating the image of servility in females. I'm probably way off the mark though; it was likely intended to praise a unison of two specific people -- she was made for him, he was made for her. This gentle tune is one of the better songs off the album, adding some extra substance in the process. And while we're in the mood for heartfelt bursts of ear fragrance, nothing could be more satisfying than From The Bottom Of My Broken Heart, a five-minute adventure that feels like romp in a field with a loved one. Nothing really sparkles within this tune; it feels as generic as a slow pop song can get. Yet if it's sappy songs you desire, then you shall be rewarded. Moving on...

Love seems to be the primary theme of this album, and that's just the theme that the acoustic-pop song I Will Be There is enforcing. Like the previous track, it seems to be an easily forgotten composition that sounds like something that would not have been out of place on the Natalie Imbruglia album released a year or two earlier (depending on where you live). It's beginning to feel, at this point, not that the best is not yet to come, but that the best has already been. With the implementation of a duet with Don Philip (who is famous for... ummm... your guess is as good as anyone's), I Will Still Love You, it's now a proven fact. This song resembles that Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey duet, Where You Are, released a year after this album; in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if this was its official predecessor. While the song isn't bad in its own right, Don Philip has that overactive boy-band vocal style that some will enjoy, and others will cringe at. As for me, well... I probably have only listened to this track twice since I bought the album in 1999; that's twice in eight years (including once for the purpose of this review). Take what you will from that.

Thinkin' About You is more upbeat, but still follows the same unfortunate pattern of average tracks that can often be forgotten in the wake of hits like "...Baby One More Time" and "(You Drive Me) Crazy". Still, this is a song that friends could kick back together with, I suppose, provided there are plenty of pretzels ready within reach to occupy them otherwise. This is followed by what could be the worst title: E-Mail My Heart, presumably a love song for the new digital millennium. Slow songs such as this might have passed by me without a sneer, but the fact that she specifically states that she wants you to proclaim your love via electronic mail is a prime indicator of just how cheesy this tangibly romantic serenade eventually becomes. Besides the e-mail aspect, it's a fair enough song, but be prepared to chuckle a little at its modern approach to love proclamation.

The final track is a bit of a laughable moment to adjourn the album. As a cover of a Sonny & Cher tune, The Beat Goes On (credited to the late Sonny Bono) ends up being a jazzy number, but ultimately it is less dynamic than the original version with very little variety in the song at all. Why this song was chosen to end the album (or chosen at all as something worthy of Britney Spears' debut) is beyond me. It sounds like a demo track that accidentally slipped into the mix at the last moment, and demonstrates how NOT to conclude a musical work: with a whimper, rather than a bang.

As a whole, I found that too many tracks were too banal and unimpressive. It is apparent that the singles were chosen wisely, as they present the only memorable portions of the album, leaving the rest as modest time filler. "...Baby One More Time", as an album, is still among the smoothest of the pop releases in the late '90s when the genre was at an amazingly high peak in the charts. Whether such an album would swim or sink if it were released today is a mystery though. If you are a pop afficionado, or just enjoy the bubble-gummery of the music scene, this album will fulfill all your auditory needs and make you cry out for more. You might even consider it the Venus de Milo of pop music. In fact, I'm sure most listeners can find something positive about this album, but it's probably not going to be sitting in your music player for weeks on end with repeated plays on a daily basis. For truly deep substance, look elsewhere.


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