Tuesday, December 2, 2008
(I've had some time to think about this.)
It's difficult to consider Britney Spears's music on its own terms. Her life has indeed become a circus, with so many sideshows that observing--or, in this case, listening--to what's supposed to be the main attraction, The Music, is laborious and perhaps misses the point of her celebrity and our fascination with it.
That said, Circus is worth examining for no other reason than that it's her job, her occupational output, the mark she hopes to leave on the world. Much like her recent MTV docu-mercial, however, Britney doesn't reveal all that much on her latest musical effort.
"Womanizer" kicks off the album, and we've all heard it and it reached #1 on the Billboard charts and this is her Big Comeback Single (part deux.) It's catchy enough, and female empowerment always lends itself to anthemic, singalong pop, but the lyrics, even by Brit's standards, are repetitive to the point of sounding more like a lesson drilled into your mind than clever lyrical wordplay. "Womanizer woman womanizer you're a womanizer," the chorus begins, and you can't help but think that she repeats the word so often because she wants to be heard--she's here, she's back, and she will keep on saying so until we pay attention.
And she succeeds--it's a decent album opener. Holding our attention, you might expect the next track, "Circus," to be a revealing pop moment in which she explains to us, the doting listener, what's been going on in her life. Sadly, it's not. "I'm like a performer," she reminds us, as though we might have forgotten that her strip teases and lip-synched concerts were anything but performance "art."
"Out From Under" succeeds in tapping into the eight-grader in all of us--you know, the part of us that wants her to go back to the way she was, a simple, pretty pop singer with a penchant for making memorable videos and ridiculous movies (hard to believe it's the same girl.) If her higher-ups at Zomba Recording LLC are smart, they'll make this the third single, a sweet contrast to the electro-drenched previous two singles (the first two tracks of the album, respectively.)
"Out From Under" also has the distinction of being the only song on the record that sounds at least somewhat organic. (Well, I guess the same could be said of "My Baby," but it's so awkward and out of place on this album that I'm just going to ignore it. I hear "Tiny haaaands" and I skip to the next song.) "Kill the Lights," song number four, brings us back into the blips and beeps and synthetic background voices that made up "Piece of Me" and much of the rest of Blackout. The album delves further into techno-land with "Shattered Glass," which slices, dices, and breaks apart Britney's voice, much like fragments of shattered glass. Get it?
And on and on. Britney retreats behind an army of synth lines and vocoders, though overall there's less of the Britney-as-robot thing as there was on her previous album. "Unusual You" has, at least, a startlingly fresh take on a budding relationship, and "Mmm Papi" isn't especially memorable, but at least she sounds like she's having fun.
The one other track that's really great is "Lace and Leather," thrown towards the end of the album and the record's shortest track. But it's got a great bass line and that always-catchy self-harmonization in the chorus. If by this point you're weary of all the electronics, don't skip over this song. It's even got an awesome-cheesy guitar riff in the bridge.
(Sadly, "Quicksand" didn't make the final cut of the album. I highly recommend finding it online; I have no idea why it's not on this album, since it's one of her strongest songs of the past couple years.)
All in all, Circus is a perfectly decent pop album, with enough catchiness and dance beats to provide the soundtrack for your next party. The problem is that, well, maybe a little introspection would have been nice--and not just the true-to-life-but-not-for-Britney romanticism of, say, "Unusual You." Britney seems to lack the self-awareness that makes a good album great, and even one track in which she acknowledges the latest twists and turns her life has taken would have been welcome and memorable. Circuses don't have to be all flash and pizzazz, you know.