Album Review: Britney Spears, “Circus” (2008)

I’ve been listening to Britney Spears since I was twelve years old.  I’m not sure if I’d call myself a die-hard fan of Spears, but she’s very much become a part of my life, since I’ve basically grown up listening to her.  I don’t know which makes me feel older- the fact that Spears first arrived on the music scene ten years ago, or the fact that I’ve been listening to her for ten years.  Either way, I’ve been on her side through it all- the teen starlet days, the world-wide success, the K-Fed marriage and kids, the head-shaving insanity- all the way to when everyone thought she had lost her touch.

Even though Spears’ 5th studio album, Blackout, saw critical acclaim, it was hardly a success.  Everyone had pretty much given up on Spears having a music career, but even then, I still kept waiting- I knew she would be back.

Finally, in 2008, Circus was released, and was hailed as Spears’ “comeback album”.  It’s easy to see why this disc was a hit- Spears returns to her formula of catchy pop songs and dance tracks- making way for another chart-topping album in her career vault.

Womanizer starts things off as the lead single from the album.  The song immediately draws you in with its electric beat and edgy lyrics (“Lollipop/Must mistake me- you’re the sucker/To think that I/Would be a victim, not another/Say it, play it how you wanna/But no way I’m ever gonna fall for you/Never you, baby “).  Any listener of Spears knows that she’s not particularly known for her skills as a vocalist, and this is apparent in this song as well; her breathy vocals occupy most of the track with the production really taking up the forefront.  The song was a major hit- the pulsating beat and stuttering in the chorus makes the tune one that will be stuck in your head for hours after.

The same could be said of following track and second single, Circus.  “There’s only two types of people in the world- the ones that entertain, and the ones that observe.  Well, baby, I’m a put on a show kind of girl,” Spears sings during the song’s opening lines, immediately setting the tone for her very special “show”.   Again, it’s the airy vocals that float over the incredibly catchy chorus that really does it for this song.   The hip-pop backing music makes the song perfect for the club (and I’ll admit that I’ve done a few on the spot choreographed danced moves at the club to this song).

The pace slows down with Out From Under, the first ballad on the album.  I’ve never, ever been a fan of Spears’ ballads- as I’ve already mentioned, her vocals aren’t great, and a song that does nothing to distract from them always ends up being a weak spot on the album.  This song is no exception; the melody sounds like a thousand other pre-manufactured pop ballad melodies, and Spears barely seems capable of handling the singing on the track.

Luckily, we’re back to upbeat pop songs, as Kill The Lights appears next.  I recall this being the first song from the album I heard, after a few of the tracks were leaked online.  I actually remember liking the song a lot more then than I do now.  I suppose the song is good for what it is- another hip-hop/pop hybrid, with a singable chorus (“I think I’m ready for my close-up (Tonight)/Make sure you catch me from my good side (Pick one!)/These other (ha!) just wanna be me/Is that money in your pocket?/Or you happy to see me?/Kill the Lights!”) and a head bobbing beat- but, for the most part, the song seems to borrow from many of the other tracks and is far too similar sounding for my tastes.  Shattered Glass has the same exact problem- though a decent enough song, it sounds absolutely identical to the song before it, which is simply disappointing to hear this early on in the album.

The originality returns with If U Seek Amy.  Britney Spears wouldn’t be Britney Spears if she didn’t somehow cause a bit of a stir, and this song is the one on the album that does.  The first few times you sing along with the chorus, you’ll probably see nothing wrong with the lines, “But all of the boys and all the girls are begging to if you seek Amy” (well, besides the point that the line, in that context, makes absolutely no sense, but I digress…).  However, once you take a second and slower gander at the line, you see that “if(F) you(U) seek(C-) Amy(Me)” means something else entirely.  Combine that with the preceding lyrics and- well, you get the point.  All of this is sung along another bouncy pop melody with lots of heavy production and more of Spears’ digitized vocals- making for an absolutely naughty and irresistible little pop song.

Sadly, most of the highlights of the album end there.  For those of you keeping track at home, we’re only half-way through the CD at this point, and really, only three of the tracks have been absolute stand outs.   Unusual You is a mid-tempo ballad with interesting enough lyrics (“Baby you’re so unusual/Didn’t anyone tell you, you’re supposed to break my heart?/I expect you to- so why haven’t you?”), but I don’t think I need to explain why I don’t like this song, given my above description of Spears’ ballads.  Blur features more risqué lines (“Can’t remember what I did last night/Maybe I shouldn’t have given in/But I just couldn’t fight/Hope I didn’t but I think I might’ve/Everything, everything is still a blur”) and a sensual drum loop, but the song is simply a dud.  Mmm Papi is a complete atrocity- the lyrics aren’t even worth transcribing, the melody is boring, and Spears’ vocals are pretty horrid.

Mannequin has a sort of techno feel to it, mostly due to the fact that Spears’ vocals are so overproduced and digitized that she almost sounds like a robot.  The rest of the song annoys me, particularly the backup vocalist in the chorus who keeps repeating the lines in an irritating echo.  Lace and Leather sounds like something you’d hear on an old-school Madonna album, which wouldn’t really be a bad thing, except the song feels so uninspired that you’ll forget all about it after you’re done listening.   My Baby is a soft ballad and one of the few songs on the album co-written by Spears.  Though the sentimental lyrics (“Cause without you/How did I get through all of my days?/Without you/Now living with you/See everything’s true/My baby it’s you”), written about Spears’ two sons, are sweet, the song suffers from the same problems as all the other ballads- the music is bland and Spears’ vocals are weak.

Perhaps Spears’ producers realized that the album was really mediocre, since they tacked Radar onto the end of the album.   The track was originally introduced on Blackout, and was one of the standout songs on the album.  This version is the exact same one- not remixed in any way- and seems a bit pointless here at the end of the disc, unless its actual purpose was to remind us that Blackout, as a whole, was a far stronger album.  I’m not really thinking that was the point, as self-defeating as that would be- however, that’s the result.
Circus is a decent enough album.  I’d say at this point in her career, it’s about what you’d expect from Britney Spears– hip, stylish pop tunes, with less emphasis on vocals and lyrics, and more emphasis on Spears’ overall image and smooth production.  I would’ve like to see more growth from Spears’- perhaps more songwriting from her, or even more in-depth songs, but even after ten years, some things never really change.  I guess the old saying is true, anyway- if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Rating: 3_stars.svg

Track Listing
1. Womanizer
2. Circus
3. Out From Under
4. Kill The Lights
5. Shattered Glass
6. If U Seek Amy
7. Unusual You
8. Blur
9. Mmm Papi
10. Mannequin
11. Lace And Leather
12. My Baby
13. Radar


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