Separating Britney Spears's personal life from her professional one has become an increasingly difficult feat in recent times; it seems like the Louisiana popstrel is more lauded for her partying than her performing these days. So, when Blackout, her first album of new music since 2003's 'In the Zone' was announced - and accompanied by a lacklustre performance of its lead single, Gimme More, at the recent MTV Awards - a cumbersome cloud of apprehension was cast over this so-called 'comeback'. Gone is the Britney of yesteryear - the semi-wholesome 17 year-old, who made killer pop songs like Baby One More Time; gone, too, is the sexed-up vixen who indecently-yet-brilliantly offered to be a Slave 4 U. In her place is a jaded-sounding 25 year-old who has done enough living for someone twice her age, but who doesn't articulate anything beyond the usual pop cliches here. Nonetheless, although Blackout is not the pinnacle of Spears' pop career, neither is it the death-knell that many expected it to be. Despite Britney's reported shunning of Timbaland's offer of expertise, there are some half-decent tracks here; Gimme More is a sultry, suitable opener, and lays the groundwork for the (mostly) uber-distilled detritus. Heaven and Earth, a spacey disco groove, evokes shades of Visage's Fade to Grey and Donna Summer's I Feel Love; Freak Show's slick, polished layers are relatively engaging, and closer Why Should I Be Sad is a haughty, chilled-out r'n'b number that encompasses Pharrell-like interjections. Too often, though, does the over-elaborate production bulldoze any hint of creativity, and the resultant tracks - electro-swaddled r'n'b chart-fodder, with suggestive, breathy voiceovers - are just completely predictable. With the right producer (Dangermouse, Timbaland?) and a clutch of songs of the calibre of Toxic and Stronger, Britney could well regain her throne; until then, we're left asking the question: where did it all go wrong?