Realizing I'm way late on the Britney train, you know I would not be able to resist reviewing Brit's new album. Not only is it a source of massive buzz, but it's an exciting new beginning for Britney, musically--and before I start, I might as well acknowledge I won't be using "Spears" as Brit's designation in this review. Madonna's Madonna, Kanye is Kanye, and Britney is Britney.
Circus is a fun, no-holds-barred pop album. Musically, it is not as addictive as Britney's previous effort, the freakishly appropriate Blackout--she may never again have a song as instantly danceable as "Break The Ice" or as anthemic as "Piece of Me"--but there's no doubting the Princess of Pop has returned in full force, ready [for her puppeteers] to conquer the music world. Or, conquer in the sense that a half-crazy, white trash mother of two can.
Really, the songs on Circus are divided into two categories: pop-orgasm good and shoot-my-ears off bad. The head of the pack, "Kill the Lights," is a tragedy told through curtains of dark lace and some of the best vocal editing since Justin Timberlake's Futuresex/LoveSounds. Oddly, many of the cuts on Circus bring to mind Timberlake's strongest work; "Shattered Glass" contains portions that sound directly lifted off "LoveStoned," while the bass line of "Blur" could be swapped for "What Goes Around/Comes Around" and no one would think twice.
The album contains other obvious inspirations as well. "Lace and Leather," one of the sickest tracks on the album, begins with the same three notes as Madonna's "Dance 2night" off Hard Candy. This doesn't render Circus any less of an album, but it detracts from the overall experience when so many tracks seem bled off the bodies of other great works. The former track, despite its introduction, presents Britney at her sexiest. She's flirty and assertive, singing lyrics that perfectly illustrate the visual scene the producers are painting. "French fingertips/red lips/bitch is dangerous," she purrs, "Cotton candy kiss/can't wait/for my suger rush." (Candy? Really? Madonna alert number two!)
"Unusual You" is one of the few risks on Circus, and whether or not it pays off is up to individual interpretation. Personally, I find it kind of sad, Britney comparing herself to "a boxer in the ring." (Madonna alert number three!) I want happiness for Britney, as does most of the caring public, but I'm not sure she'll ever find it. A love like the kind she sings about in "Unusual You"--angelic, surprising, unworthy love--is something she has shown a knack for avoiding. Production-wise, it serves as a needed break in the loud pop extravaganzas of "If U Seek Amy" and "Shattered Glass," a kind of subdued confessional reminiscent of "Heaven On Earth," one of the few non-bare-it-all tracks on Blackout.
Without a doubt, the most musically, lyrically, vocally unique (and risque) song on Circus is, well, a bonus track. "Phonography" is a nearly flawless pop track, with an ice-cold synth and a roiling vocal sample pushing the TMI boundaries into overdrive. Written about a long distance lover, whom she hopes to keep that way, "Phonography" is just hot; it's "old Britney" by New Britney. Another example of her producers' kitschy use of verbiage, Britney sings (in a stagnant hum that works in context), "I like my Bluetooth, buttons coming loose/I need my hands free/then I let my mind roam, playing with my ring-tone/I've got serivice, you've got service/baby we can talk all night."
"Phonography" is clever. "If U Seek Amy" is clever. Tracks like these make a pop fan hope Britney truly is on her way to becoming The Artist of the New Millenium once again. This album may not fit the bill--"Mmm Papi" and "My Baby" pretty much diminish any hopes of an Oops!...I Did It Again kind of album--but Britney started in this business with the same core idea of beginning with something clever, something that catchtes the listeners' ears. All of Britney's biggest hits were made with metaphor and double entendres. "...One More Time," "Toxic," and "Slave 4 U" utilized a combination of Britney's sublime sexuality (that's the correct usage, by the way) and lyrics that just almost give it to you. Circus appears to be following a similar route, and is leagues better than Blackout.
If there's one thing Circus teaches us as a pop audience, it's "A Coherent Britney is a Better Britney." And a Circus is better than a Blackout.