Some weeks ago, I went and saw Richard Thompson at my local indie record store, Fingerprints, and the highlight of the all-too-brief show was his cover of this Britney Spears hit.
Thompson originally recorded this song for his 1000 Years of Popular Music, where he examined a bunch of songs that were the tops of the pops in their day. Thompson proves that his talent is wide-ranging and prodigious by making what is an atrocity Britney Spears’ hands (or at least in the hands of her production team at the time) a truly entertaining tune.
Have I mentioned that I really dig Richard Thompson? I might be just a wee bit biased.
But actually, he does demonstrate that this overproduced, pretentious piece of fluff is actually a fairly well-written and structurally sound pop tune. The sight of cute little Brit in her red catsuit is there to distract us from the fact that her vocals are autotuned to the point of nonexistence and the music seems to be all played by computer. The fact that there seems to be almost zero human input into the making of this song is disturbing, but we shouldn’t blame the song itself. To be fair, it’s not a great pop song; it’s average at best. But to see what appears to be a perfectly serviceable if rather sexist song turned into what amounts to a pre-programmed tune on an 80s-era Casio keyboard is kind of sad. (It is a pretty sexist song: She basically admits that she’s nothing but a nasty whore, and he really should’ve known better.)
This kind of pop music continues to be produced with ever-greater frequency. Solution? Just send everything to Richard Thompson to cover. He’ll reveal at least the competence of the songs, if not their true greatness.