RCA Records

Like Wile E. Coyote realizing too late that he’s walked off a cliff and is standing on thin air, “Britney Jean,” the new studio album from Britney Spears, is marked with so many sleights of hand, dubious lyrics and bombastic but boringly simple melodies that the too-rare levitation of its better moments seems an animation trick.

Item one: “It Should Be Easy,” a song that practically wallows in its own failure. Featuring a cameo by the album’s executive producer, will.i.am, the track casts doubt on his utility, as evidenced by these lazy lines: “Love, it should be easy/ It shouldn’t be complicated/ It should be easy.” Deep insight, indeed, augmented with the rocky syllabic mess in the chorus’ kicker: “I don’t know how or where else to say it.” Here’s an idea: Rather than surrender and admit you don’t know how to say it, follow the advice in “Work Bitch” and “work hard, like it’s your profession.”

Such potholes dot “Britney Jean,” which the 32-year-old Spears has described as her most personal and open album yet.

“Passenger” features Spears’ voice so digitally overworked that she doesn’t sound like herself. “Body Ache” lazily pairs sex and sweaty dancing with fifth-grader rhymes: “I know you feel my fire/ Draw you into my flame/ Tonight we take it higher/ What I got ain’t no game.”

It all adds up to a drag, considering the shimmering promise of the first track, “Alien.” Filled with cool UFO sounds and vast-as-the-cosmos echo, the song introduces our heroine by acknowledging self-obsession in her past through a voice so coated in electronic effects that it’s rendered nearly pixilated.

Whatever unique skills Spears once had — what were they again, anyway? — “Britney Jean” suggests she better prepare herself for the reality that she’s losing them fast.

— Randall Roberts, Los Angeles Times