Review Summary: Dumb dance-pop? Yup. Overly self-indulgent? Yup. And since you would already guess that about Circus, the majority of the album is just that predictable. But (hold your breath), there is a small side that actually tends to impress.
Britney Spears is back. For the fiftieth time, yes, but on this go-round it appears she's giving it the old naked-in-the-video, dancing-in-the-orgy college try. And in prep for Circus, she's coming out all guns blazing: an MTV documentary that finally
addresses that crotch-showing, head-shaving chapter of her life we can simply label "Kevin Federline", a recent live performance of "Womanizer" that was lip-synchingly tolerable, and a Rolling Stone cover on which she looks (what?) normal. She seems determined to prove that the circus of celebrity doesn't have her beat.
But does it? Britney's sophomore effort sans K-Fed, because it seems as if the world is giving her the extreme benefit of a career do-over, is a collection of copious amounts of "like, omgz, i'm so hot" lyrics, sex, synth, and chopping and screwing all over the place that doesn't always work. Production wise, it's actually pretty high quality goods, but being six albums in now, that shouldn't be enough. It's significantly self-indulgent like always, in that Spears plays that hot girl of the nightclub who will tell you she's not that easy (but definitely is). The main difference between Blackout and Circus, however, is that she's lost the urban influence that came with the former effort and the latter suffers for it. There's good pop and bad pop... and not much else. "Womanizer" as a first single is repetitive and catchy for simpler fans, but gets boring after 2 seconds, like much of the album. Most of the tracks on Circus actually start off with promise until either production takes a wrong turn or Britney makes a stupid decision and it's over- mostly the latter. "Circus" the single up next, is intriguing until the sloppy chorus hits, and then it's harder to tolerate. "Mmm Papi"'s spanish twang is actually pretty infectious until Britney tries to talk sexy halfway through... uh, no thanks. "Lace and Leather" is a lot less threatening than it sounds and is just another excuse for Spears to drop the B-word as it's not convincing in the least. "Shattered Glass", "Kill The Lights", and "If U Seek Amy" are, save for "Glass'" notable tempo switchups, all formulaic dance fillers that come and go without any leaving any distinction between them. Ballads? Britney, I'd cut back on those. "Out From Under" is the slightly better of the two, but "My Baby"'s falsetto tends to make your ears want to bleed.
But just when you think there's nothing salvageable here, Spears tends to create something to show you just how good she once was (and I'm saying 'good' meaning that she can assemble the necessary parts of a perfect pop machine, because, really... talented on her own? Let's not get crazy.) "Blur" is a slow-churning track on which Britney snakes well over a solid composition of stuttering cymbals, drum, and synth. "Where the hell am I? / Who are you? / What'd we do last night?" she wonders on a song that sounds exactly like what it's singing about- a sweet, spinning hangover. "Mannequin", on the other hand, is definitive dance-pop Spears but with a progressive edge. Yeah, the lyrics are typical tongue-in-cheek flirting ("I do what I like / And then you do what I like / And you like it"), but the weird cranking and whirring? The occasional acoustic? The odd man-moaning? It's all just crazy enough to work.
These two together, though, don't really push you to even call the album good, especially since track-for-track, Blackout is the significantly better attempt, with its composition of majorally upbeat, hip-hop laced dance tracks that even offered a tiny bit of depth at its end. Britney was too drugged up at that time, though, and with her full support this time around, it's ironic that here's where she tends to take two steps back. While it's physically a more diverse album than the one before it, and yeah, there's some glitzy sh*t in there for her dedicated fans, in the end? Not a very exciting Circus.