Yup, the signs are ominous. It’s the first column of the year, and I’m sinking my teeth into Britney Spears — into her latest album, Circus, to be precise. But hang on. Before you send me back to rehab, let’s give the Artist, Formerly Confirmed To Be Cuckoo, a chance, shall we?
Circus is a move away from usual Britney fare — you know, farting sounds and boom‘n’treble with m’lady innuendoing her way with her ‘voice’. The ‘turn’ was first noticed in her previous record, Blackout. But with this one comes more variety that should — thankfully — upset die-soft Britney fans.
The opener, ‘Womanizer’, for instance, has a whiff of 90s Brit synth-pop duo Erasure in it. Even the drum machine’s tom-tom buttons, beloved of every Bappi Lahiri aficionado, seem to have a purpose. The title track that follows is a whirligig of electro-popping sounds that don’t quite gel unless you’re on the dance floor. The surprise package is ‘Out From Under’ where Britney’s actually singing like a chanteuse. This is Britney doing Dido.
In ‘Kill the lights’, we are told of the ‘discomforts’ of a photo session — from the model’s perspective, of course (“Mr Photographer, I think I’m ready for my close-up/Tonight, make sure you catch me from my good side.”) That Britney has a Madonna picture stuck on her wall as inspiration that goes beyond image-building is evident in this song. ‘Shattered glass’ is, what experts call, a ‘terrible song’: dancey pop that reminds us why even reviewing a Britney album can damage one’s reputation. ‘If you seek Amy’ starts with a Rihanna-like la-la-la staccato and is a peppy spray for any girl who likes that kind of thing.
There’s a rockish edge to ‘Unusual you’. And the horse-hooves bass doesn’t remove the charm of the Evanescence-style harmonies. ‘Blur’ with its intricate, loopy melodic line and counterflowing strings is actually an enchanting song that marks a new sound in Britneyland. It’s a standout song that sounds so different from the rest of the album that it’s a stand-alone. The familiar hyper-ness of ‘Mmm Papi’ is great mix-music where the only thing that spoils the party is Britney’s vocals.
But how can she resist her old sex-kitten till-I-die routine? And sure enough, duds follow like a string of plastic pearls sold in a jar at a mall. ‘Mannequin’ is dance-music for people made of wood. In ‘Lace & Leather’, even with its funky bass-slapping start, she sounds neither dirty nor like Abba while trying to
Circus is an interesting album from a pop phenomenon who has left her worst music behind her. So do we wait for the 27-year-old to turn diva? With the right music team and with her away from the microphone and only in the videos, who knows…