It’s mighty difficult to sum up the long and illustrious career of Britney Spears. From bursting on to the pop scene with that video for …Baby One More Time, Spears moved through the gears quickly, having as much incident in the decade personally as most people manage in a lifetime. Meanwhile, her music career stuttered as she struggled to keep her personal life on track, and this, her second singles collection best of type package, aims to draw a line under a difficult part of her career, and, indeed, life.

The Singles Collection comes as a reminder of how much impact Spears had on the world of pop. Put simply, she is the biggest female pop star of the modern era. And deservedly so. Her singles are usually finely-crafted nuggets of pop gold, with choruses that lay permanent roots in your brain within seconds. But curiously, The Singles Collection is not as good an album as 2007’s Greatest Hits: My Prerogative.

Spears’ last two albums have seen the singer embrace the ubiquitous auto-tune technology that dominates the American charts. It’s a shame, as Spears has always stood out for her vocal talent, occasionally sickly sweet, but always right on the mark. The over-production on her recent material suggests a lack of confidence in her ability to continue to hold a tune and her consistent miming on tour would seem to back that up. Frankly, her voice could be anyone on the new songs. She’s lost her edge and her individuality.

With any hits collection it’s pretty simple to qualify how good it is. You just count up the great songs against the not so great songs. Perhaps eight of the tracks on this LP would make that mark, with the other ten falling short. That’s not a great ratio when you consider Spears’ six albums over ten years of consistent output. In my opinion My Prerogative has nine great tracks, so somehow Britney has gone backwards over the last few years.

Curiously, a number of Spears’ early, more innocent songs has been ditched. Sometimes and Lucky, two of this writer’s favourite Spears tracks, are dumped, to be replaced by new tracks If You Seek Amy (plodding, dated Euro-pop) and Radar (catchy but annoying). Also dropped is Do Somethin’, which not only sparked Spears’ journey into darker disco territory, but also spawned Muse’s Supermassive Black Hole. It’s odd that Spears has chosen to continue on that path with the brilliant Womanizer and the much less good 3 and at the same time ignore the tune that started it all.

But it’s difficult to argue with the rest of the changes. The dreary Overprotected disappears, as does b-side at best Don’t Let Me Be The Last To Know. The car crash that was I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll is also, thankfully, nowhere to be heard but for some reason the awful duet with Madonna, Me Against The Music, stays. The remastering of the older tracks is minimal, with it just sounding like a lazy producer has, as the kids say, put a donk on it.

But the new tracks that come in are no better. Piece of Me and Gimme More are one and the same, while Circus is totally forgettable. The problem with the new computerised Britney is the soul has gone. It would have been interesting to see her bare her heart after her much-publicised problems and confront them head on. Instead, by ramping up the sex and making the outfits skimpier, Spears is clearly using her sexuality (she’s looking as good as she ever has at the moment) as a defence mechanism to hide behind. The result of that is that Britney no longer stands out in her field and has been overtaken by the likes of Lady Gaga and Rihanna, two truly 21st century performers. Spears seems unable to make herself seem important in this new, scary era.

But there are bright sparks. Everytime is wonderfully half-prescient, poignant and perceptive, with its matching video of Spears rowing with a boyfriend and being taken away in an ambulance having cut her wrists in the bath, the haunting melody twinkling around behind Spears’ most delicate vocal on record. Crazy is still a fantastic tune from the opening seconds shout of “Crrrraaaaaaazzzzzzzeeeee” and Toxic will arguably be the track that Spears is remembered for the longest.

Looking back, Oops, I Did It Again marked the start of Britney 2.0 with her defiantly stating “I’m not that innocent”. It’s almost as if the last few years of her life have been trying to prove the 2000 version of Spears right by taking deliberate wrong turns.

Despite the gusset-flashing, her continued inability to wear a bra that guarantees her regular appearances in the tabloids and the gossip press, the head-shaving, the two failed marriages, the cringeworthy snog with Madonna, the very public breakdown and her subsequent weight battles, The Singles Collection comes as a timely reminder of the talent she was blessed with in the early years of the decade. But, sadly, it also stands as a mark of how Spears has struggled over the last five years or so to keep on the straight and narrow, both personally and professionally.

If the record was to be ordered chronologically, there would be a clear point at which her star began to fade. That’s probably why the record label have got it in this order, actually. Anyway, if you’re a fan, you’ll already the songs on The Singles Collection. Part-time admirers will have the better tracks from buying the previous best of release. Non-fans won’t care and I refuse to believe even young teens will be wholely new to the Spears phenomenon. And both hits albums are on Spotify anyway, so there’s really no need to buy this and line the record label’s pockets further. Save your pennies.

7/10
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