Oh man, I had some low expectations coming back to this—well, "coming back." I liked the songs when they were on the radio. But when I finally got a cheap used copy of the album a couple years later it didn't seem to me to amount to much more than the hits, and the hits didn't sound so good anymore. So I filed it. I had always felt a little like someone claiming to enjoy "Playboy" for the thoughtful and hard-hitting articles anyway whenever I tried to talk about the various virtues of Britney Spears's music—her good fortune of a sweet and sultry voice which she can play like an instrument, the infectious layers of glittering production, and some basic understanding of the principles of pop music and hooks and so forth, not to mention an erratic but unmistakable sense on her part for soul singing. As her public persona developed into chronic celebrity problems it got too tiresome and I thought I had put it all behind me. In fact, I'm not even sure why I included it on the list of albums I am still working from, at the time intended for much shorter write-ups and download availability. I think I wondered how my audience of the time would respond to something so blatantly mainstream. Anyway, holy buckets, it sounds way better than I remember. It's still the hits I tend to favor; the stellar track this time is definitely "Sometimes" (#21 in 1999), which might be the most obvious Spice Girls knockoff here, now that I think of it. It's sweet and hot and all kind of sad and uncertain about a love relationship, and swells up big on the chorus, lush and full of presence. The kind of thing you can't always put in words, you know? So I usually turn it up a little for that one. Then a song called "Soda Pop" follows, so winsomely sweet as to be nauseating. It's part of what chased me away from the album in the first place. But then that's followed by "Born to Make You Happy," which is not a hit but good, with her bruised vocals playing nicely off a chanting background line. In a certain mood, which the album is at pains to set by that point, it's tolerable enough—if you feel mired in by saccharine dreck, hang on. There's bound to be better, or maybe the dreck will clarify into the more and more pleasing passages I seem to hear in this every time now. To be sure, there are silly exercises here, such as "E-Mail My Heart," which pains me just to see the title. But then there's a decent Sonny & Cher cover (and I like the pick). There are at least four or five good to great songs here.