Britney's R&B secrets revealed

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Our friend Henry Rollins (singer, poet, spoken word guy, etc) for whom we reserve much respect, ran into a music industry producer who had worked extensively with Britney Spears. So the question comes up: 'What's the story with Britney? Can she actually sing at all?'

The answer, it seems, is yes, and no.

A quick tangential story. When I was growing up I listened to a lot of blues music. Some of the very first albums I bought were by performers like Elmore James, Pete Johnson and Muddy Waters.

So by the age of fifteen, I knew what stride and ragtime were. And boogie-woogie. And Chicago, Memphis, and Delta blues. But I could never understand R&B.

I loved Michael Jackson's Off The Wall and Thriller albums, and Prince's 1999 and Purple Rain, but I couldn't understand, for the life of me, why they were called R&B.

As it turns out, R&B, while its supposed to mean 'rhythm and blues,' is really just code for black music. The designation made sense back in the days of Fats Domino, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry; in fact, their music could only be described as such–it's rhythmic blues. But even then, the phrase R&B had only arrived in the 1940s to replace 'race records' (an increasingly unacceptable term for post-war America) which itself was a sanitised name for the blatantly racist and offensive 'n****r music.'

My finally discovering that there was/is a socially accepted covert label for 'black music', I consider one of the most depressing moments of my life, both as a musician and a human being.

Who in their right mind would think Tina Turner, George Clinton, and The Isley Brothers all belong on the same shelf? Why in the name of Beelzebub would you even need a category called 'black music'? It makes about as much sense as a category called 'music by tall people.'

But back to Britney.

The method is simple. The producer calls in a black R&B session vocalist to sing the new hit album, start to finish, complete with improvisation, inflection and passion. Britney then listens, sings along, and the two voices are blended.

Very clever work. I'm impressed with the idea and it's doubtless a magnificent feat of studio production; I'm always one to recognise the great craft involved in the industry. It is however, magnificently evil. It's part of the soulless, shallow manipulation that has built the current consumer dystopia that is destroying the human imagination and sapping our will to live.

Somehow, it reminds me of an exchange between Woody Allen's and Diane Keaton's characters in the film Manhattan.

Him: You still reviewing Tolstoy?

Her: No, no, I finished that two days ago. I'm on that novelisation.

Him: What…what do you waste your time with a novelisation for?

Her: Why? Because it's easy and it pays well.

Him: It's like another contemporary American phenomenon that's truly moronic. The novelisations of movies. You're much too brilliant for that.

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