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Britney Spears “Circus” Review

Published in Blog, Culture Bully. Tags: , .

On pop-merit alone, “Womanizer” is enough of an earworm to draw interest to Britney Spears’ new album from even the most hesitant of listeners. The single, which is her first chart-topper since 1999’s “…Baby One More Time,” continues Spears’ trend of having about as much lyrical zest as Metallica’s James Hetfield. That being said, it has a beat with a solid enough punch to drown out the overly repetitive chorus, and it comes across as something comfortable to the singer. Seemingly out of nowhere Spears has found reprieve in the studio, one of the few remaining places where paparazzi aren’t lurking and she’s away from the public eye. And away from that drama, her relaxed approach has left her with nearly 30 songs that she has reportedly recorded during the sessions for Circus – 18 of which will see eventually be released. But does a rush of material and a relaxed attitude mean that Britney’s back (bitches)? Not quite.

In 1991, after being rung through the critical washboard, Michael Jackson moved beyond being a sum of his notable eccentricities to release his third chart topping album, Dangerous. While Jackson and Spears are clearly different people in different situations with different public “issues,” Circus might grant Spears’ musical career a similar rebirth. Granted, on the surface Circus doesn’t have the potential for nine singles like Dangerous had (though I’m sure Jive would be willing to milk nine out of the album), but it has a sound suggesting that the musician is taking a serious interest in her work again.

Alongside “Womanizer,” “Radar” sounds vibrant, blending in nicely with the Kanye’s of the current pop-radio-landscape. Its pulsating beat creates a solid base for the song, and Spears’ voice shines within the track. While Spears doesn’t have the range of many other singers, “Radar” succeeds because she’s not trying to reach beyond her capabilities; a trend that is evident throughout Circus. Additionally, “Radar” is heavily produced, but not to a point of detriment, and when blended with her (seemingly) lightly produced vocals it easily stands out amongst the pack. And while “Unusual You” has its blindingly apparent moments of vocal tampering, it’s far from coming close to the level autotune used in Cher’s “Believe;” produced in a way that would make Kanye and Lil Wayne blush with envy.

The biggest problem with Circus is that it sounds like Spears’ “best” tracks from her recording session have simply being tossed together without order. Sune Rose Wagner of The Raveonettes recently spoke on his band’s decision to release a string of EPs rather than a single album, “It’s a little bit more interesting to write and record four songs at a time than having to concentrate on 12-14 songs for a full length. This way you can do something new and exciting… I wish people just recorded singles instead of albums, actually.” Circus is a prime example of an album that should have been a series of EPs. The banger “If U Seek Amy” is rightly lumped with “Unusual You,” but the two standouts are surrounded by ballads and other tracks varying the album’s pace beyond the restraints of tolerance. Simply considering the volume of material produced for the album, four or five EPs could have easily released, each having at least one single, each revealing a different side to Spears. But as is the case, while being a surprisingly strong effort, Circus is too varied for its own good.

Is an onslaught of (mostly) refreshing material enough to reinforce the Dangerous comparison? Not really. But it’s her attitude tha’s helping influence her reintroduction to the epicenter of pop music. Rather than releasing an album of material furthering the public’s belief that she’s lost within her own reality, she’s putting songs out that suggest that she’s firm where she’s at right now. In “Womanizer” Spears hisses “You say I’m crazy, I got your crazy,” and while it’s a dimly lit stab at her naysayers it suggests that she’s coming to grips with her life. She’s not the most stable person in the world, but it is what it is. Circus doesn’t represent anything that would necessarily suggest that Britney is “back,” but rather, that she’s just here making some good songs – and for the first time in a very long time, she’s comfortable with that.

[This post was first published by Culture Bully.]