Britney Spears is making a habit of putting out albums with titles that promise more self-revelation than she’s ultimately able to provide. Last fall, she released Blackout…which turned out not to have anything to do with experiencing blackouts. This year, it’s Circus, with a title track that’s not about the madhouse her life has become but just a brag about her prowess as a whip-cracking sexual ringmaster. In the studio, however, she’s no auteur, and with her producer-writers seemingly calling the creative shots, Spears is only as interesting as they are on any particular day.
Initially, that’s not interesting enough. Circus‘ first half has hitmakers like Dr. Luke and Max Martin bringing their B game to rote dance tracks like ”Shattered Glass” (pronounced glah-ee-ass) and the puerile ”If You Seek Amy” (sound it out to hear why it’ll be a middle-school sensation). But halfway through, Circus shifts from defiant booty calls to subtler material; suddenly, it’s a first-rate electro-pop album. The Danja-produced ”Blur” is a remarkably pretty song about (finally!) an actual blackout. ”Mmm Papi” giddily sets her littlest-girl voice against a guitar right out of 1960s go-go rock.
The standout is ”Unusual You,” a pulsating ballad where a woman of experience finds unexpected love: ”Didn’t anyone tell you you’re supposed to/Break my heart, I expect you to/So why haven’t you?” Mostly, Spears still presents herself as fantasy object, but here might be her own fantasy — of real acceptance. Next time, Britney, flash us more of that. B
DOWNLOAD THIS: Listen to songs from Circus on Britney Spears’ MySpace page
Preview: Britney: For the Record:
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First Look: MTV’s Britney: For the Record