Tabloid queen finally makes CD worth the hype

By By Kieran Layton

Somebody go find Ashton Kutcher because Britney Spears just punk’d us all. With a title as… Somebody go find Ashton Kutcher because Britney Spears just punk’d us all. With a title as intriguingly suggestive as Circus, fans everywhere waited for a comeback album full of shocking insight and gossip-worthy depictions of Spears’ life. Perhaps she would finally discuss her out-of-control behavior of the past few years and set it to a few catchy, infectious melodies. Unfortunately, all she manages to deliver is an album filled to the brim with her standard pop confections, which run the gamut from killer dance tracks to the obligatory ballad (or two). Not that it’s a bad thing. At this point, I think this is all that we should expect from Spears. And if Circus is as good as it gets, all we can do is be thankful that when Spears gets it right, she really gets it right. For her sixth studio album, Spears teams up with all the producers who made her music such a pop staple. And why shouldn’t she? The people who gave the world ‘Toxic’ and ‘Gimme More’ obviously know how to create hit songs that sell. To her credit, Spears does start experimenting with a variety of new sounds. Listeners encounter funky, ’70s-esque guitar riffs, full-fledged electro-pop and even a passing attempt at a cappella ‘mdash; or rather, the closest someone so reliant on auto-tune will ever get to carrying a track solely on her vocals. On that note, listeners fed up with the constant digitalization of Spears’ voice will most likely want to crack their iPods open after one song. Spears slides so robotically between pitches that it’s hard to imagine there are human vocal projections under them. Of course, those complaining about her fakeness are missing the point ‘mdash; Spears does not make groundbreaking music. Of course this is over-processed and artistically inept. Spears makes pure, escapist pop music, and damn it if she’s not a master at it by now. We have all heard the lead single, ‘Womanizer,’ which revels in its synth-drum beat and schoolyard-taunt chorus. She hits similar electro-pop notes in ‘Shattered Glass,’ a short but catchy ditty with (surprise!) synthesized sounds of shattering glass, and ‘Kill the Lights,’ a rumored nod to that paparazzo Spears allegedly dated. ‘Is that money in your pocket / Or you happy to see me?’ she growls. If it’s a paparazzo that snapped an elusive picture of you, Britney, odds are both. The naughtiness reaches giggle-inducing levels on the infectious, Katy Perry-esque ‘If U Seek Amy.’ Sound the title out slowly, and you’ll understand what the kiddies will be giggling at for weeks. Congratulations, you are now privy to probably the most clever witticism Spears is likely to make. ‘Blur’ takes the suggestiveness to an uncomfortable level. With drawling tones and minimal instrumentation, Spears coos, ‘I think I need an aspirin / I gotta get my head right / Where the hell am I?’ Britney, try to remember, you have two young children. The dancey pop sounds hit a high point with the title track, which is also her next single. It’s one of her best songs, not only on this CD, but ever. If it doesn’t have you unconsciously humming its bridge and chorus, you should not be listening to pop music. The best surprise of the CD is how good the non-dance songs are. ‘Out From Under’ is her best ballad in recent memory and has Spears at her most vocally pleasant. ‘Lace and Leather’ and ‘Mmm Papi’ find Spears experimenting with more guitar-driven beats, and both have Spears sounding like she is actually having fun. ‘Unusual You,’ from ‘Toxic’ masterminds Bloodshy ‘amp; Avant, is an album high. Completely original with a subdued, pulsating electronic beat, the track shows a glimpse of what not only the future of Spears, but of pop music in general, looks like. Of course, along with too much blissful pop cotton candy comes pop vomit. ‘Mannequin’ is jaw-droppingly awful and warrants instant skip-status. ‘My Baby’ is a ballad about Spears’, well, babies, and is far too sweet and unfortunately illustrates how limited Spears’ vocal abilities are. So no, the CD is not going to change anyone’s opinion of Spears. And yes, it does deliver a variety of mildly enjoyable pop diversions to real music and real life. Her life might actually be a circus, but Circus is merely an indication that Spears is getting back to what she does best ‘mdash; providing pop for the masses without apology. Now if only K-Fed would hurry up with his next CD.