If 'Toxic' took Spears outside of her usual comfort zone, then being a standard pop ballad sung to a former lover, 'Everytime' tries to put her back into it again. That it only partly succeeds is down the song itself; a fragile, broken musical box melody coupled with Spears' own lyric of honesty ("Everytime I try to fly I fall, without my wings I feel so small. I guess I need you baby") born out of upheaval in her own personal life*, it adds up to a fractured song suggestive of genuine damage that Spears' hushed, below the radar vocal is wise enough not to milk. Leave that to the accompanying promotional video of her committing suicide in a bathtub and then being reborn on the hospital ward she's rushed to - high art or a misguided attempt at making a statement that tries far harder than the song itself does? The latter of course.
It fails harder too - like Lenny Henry 'doing' Othello on stage, Britney Spears 'doing' grown up despair doesn't so much ask a lot from her original fanbase as require a different one altogether, but in truth 'Everytime' needs none of that visual baggage or the zombie eyed, artsy fartsy fashion shoot cover - it's strong enough to be able to convince on its own terms. Because in its own way, 'Everytime' is as much of a surprise as 'Toxic' was; despite the song's dysfunctional theme, imagery ("You ruin my dreams") and origins, Spears sounds in control of/comfortable with her own output for once and only a nagging resemblance to Richard Marx's 'Right Here Waiting' spoiling the result.
* With fellow singer/former Mickey Mouse presenter Justin Timberlake. Timberlake had already released 'Cry Me a River', allegedly addressed to Spears and 'Everytime' has been taken as her measured response. Are you listening Frankee?