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Music Review

Britney Spears: 'The Singles Collection'

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Britney Spears: 'The Singles Collection'
Released on Monday, Nov 23 2009

When Britney released '...Baby One More Time' at the tail-end of the last century, few would have predicted that she'd still be around today. Sure, it quickly became obvious that the track - reportedly rejected by TLC - was one of the great pop singles, but the history books are littered with the remains of stars that instantly light up the charts only to burn up just as fast. Despite some filler-heavy albums, Britney has always been something else, and this compilation perfectly captures the career of one of the best singles artists of the last ten years.

Where her 2004 Best Of, My Prerogative, was let down by some needless inclusions, unsatisfying sequencing and under-written new material, the 18-track Singles Collection is as lean as the star herself after a couple of months on the road. Better still, it features the best singles from the Blackout and Circus albums, which salvaged Britney's career as a pop artist in the face of a personal breakdown. The only possible quibble is having newbie '3' tacked on the start rather than the end - ruining the otherwise chronological tracklisting - but in the grand scheme of things that matters not-a-jot.

Running from '...Baby One More Time' to 'Radar', you get a single-disc timeline that shows a progression in style and substance from school uniform-wearing pop ingénue to sultry motorik saucepot. There's an argument that the 65-minute run-time should have been extended to include a few more songs, but in the main it's the slowies that have been dropped, and that's no bad thing. Of course, there's little you can say about the songs themselves that hasn't already been said. Hits like 'Toxic' and 'Oops!... I Did It Again' proved their cultural cachet by featuring in Doctor Who and John & Edward's most magical moment respectively. Even the oft-forgotten 'Stronger' boasts two stone-cold classic pop moments: the lyrical inversion of her debut hit ("My loneliness ain't killing me no more") and that sound drop-out at two-and-a-half minutes that teases before the chorus slams back in.

Britney's voice has long been a source of contention, but while the debate about the value of a lip-synced live concert continues to rage, this compilation underlines her worth as a distinctive pop singer, at least on record. She certainly doesn't have the pipes of contemporaries Christina or Shakira, let alone the likes of Mariah or Whitney, but as last year's X Factor finalists showed, it's not as easy as it looks to make these songs sound as good as they do here.

And there's nothing that sounds out of place. The thematic muddle of wedging a coming-of-age ballad ('I'm Not A Girl...') between two slabs of sexed-up hip-pop ('Slave 4 U', 'Boys') looks dodgy on paper, but sounds perfect in the listening. Best of all is the double-header of 'Everytime' and 'Gimme More', where you get Brit's best ballad jammed up against a throbbing robopop thriller that's rightfully survived her infamous VMAs performance. The only arguable weak link is the Madonna-featuring 'Me Against The Music', but in this context what once looked like a respectful passing of the baton now seems like an unconditional surrender of pop Queendom to its rightful heir.

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