BRITNEY SPEARS Blackout (RCA) In 2002 Britney Spears sang to the world through a piano-backed ballad: "I'm not yet a girl, not yet a woman." Since then she has proved that she is more than a woman. The tabloids have relentlessly followed her ill-fated transformation to a wife (and a half), a mother, and a divorcee. Her latest and fifth studio album, Blackout, her "comeback" album, communicates no motherly instincts, even as she vies for custody of her two boys, and judging from the sound and lyrics, Britney Spears is in more heat than ever. Blackout is Spears' most strident deviation from her starry-eyed ballads and jumpy pop songs. Those who miss the fun-loving, teen-bop beats of "Hit Me Baby One More Time" or "Oops I Did it Again," are advised to proceed with caution. Many songs on Blackout are not easily sing-able. Acoustic instruments are difficult to make out in the techno-tinged, synch-heavy songs, rendering them difficult for easy listening but ideal for pumping-and-grinding on the dance floor. The album is replete with proud proclamations about her raunchy, seductive, freakish ways, indicating that she has no plans to end the lewd partying that has triggered the paparazzi maelstrom. On the one hand, she hits back at the tabloids in "Piece of Me" with lyrics like "And with a kid on my arm/ I'm still an exception, and everybody/Want a piece of me." Yet four songs later in "Get Naked (I Got a Plan)" she's singing: "My body is calling out for you bad boy/I get the feeling that I just want to be with ya/Baby, I'm a freak and I don't really give a damn/I'm crazy as a mother f***r." The first song, "Gimme More", introduces the album with an assertive: "It's Britney Bitch," to signify her arrival. But anyone who saw her overly-lambasted performance of "Gimme More" on the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards will remember how she arrived: stumbling and punch drunk. That performance aside, however, "Gimme More" is a masterfully produced, upbeat dance song, and reached the top of the charts and number one on iTunes. So if Spears hasn't necessarily arrived, then her producers definitely have. Modern beatmaster, Danja, the acclaimed protÃ©gÃ© of hip-hop producer Timbaland, who has churned out hits for Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake, is responsible for some of the most successful songs on the album, including "Gimme More" and "Hot as Ice", a fun and coy tune backed by whizzing hooks and punchy lyrics. The duo Bloodshy & Avant of "Toxic" fame proves its knack for sultry beats and original electronic riffs with "Radar." Their "Toy Soldiers" is a dizzying electronic march to Spears' cry directed at - who else? - ex-husband Keven Federline: "This time I need a soldier/ a really badass soldier/ that knows how to take care of me/ I'm so damn glad that's over." It's difficult to say if Blackout will mark Spears' comeback because she's hardly present in the album, despite the autobiographical nature of some lyrics, not her own. She's more the canvas for the producers to showcase their mastery of rhythm and electronica. Her voice is heavily processed through vocoders and filters, making it another instrument - albeit an effective, seductive one. Given all of Spears' personal problems, it rather sounds like, when making the album, she took a back seat in the studio, tilted her hat over her wig, and said, before blacking out: "I partied too much last night and have a court case tomorrow. Wake me up when you need me to record." In fact, in a strange, inarticulate and brief interview with Ryan Seacrest on Los Angeles' KIIS FM, Seacrest asked her about the opening line, "It's Britney Bitch", to which she replied: "The producer told me to say thatâ€¦.whatever, you know." Success may depend on how well Spears sells the songs with knock-out (rather than knocked-out or knocked-up) performances and videos. Spears is as much about choreographed image as she is about the music, and she can't rely forever on Britney voyeurs and crazed fans who can't get enough of her no matter what she does. It would be a shame if her new songs, which include potential hits, are wasted with clumsy performances, pointless pole-dancing, and just plain deranged womanhood.