- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Britney Spears



Pop idol Britney Spears puts a bookend on the walking-train-wreck phase of her young career with the release of the relentlessly fabulous “Circus.”

Part Bronx cheer to her public, part revenge mix tape, part autobiography, “Circus” is a mash note to life in the center ring.

There’s not much by way of contrition for her very public 2007 crackup, which included rumors of drug-fueled excess, attacks on paparazzi and the loss of custody of her two children to ex-husband Kevin Federline. Instead, the message of “Circus” is that Miss Spears suffers for your pleasure, and it’s bad to get thrills from her antics, buy weekly celebrity tabloids and scour the Internet for photographs of her regrettable clothing ensembles - all the while tut-tutting her behavior. On the title track, Miss Spears sings, “There’s only two types of people in the world: ones that entertain and ones that observe.” It’s pretty clear from this song and the rest which of the two she considers the higher life form.

Here, the producers adroitly use minor keys to signal a kind of malaise bordering on menace to which Miss Spears’ adenoidal but otherwise affectless vocal style is perfectly suited. The single “Womanizer” - in heavy radio and video rotation for months now - opens with a memorable fanfare of synthesizer that blares with the urgency of a siren. The mix on the Danja-produced “Kill the Lights” appears to be optimized for play on audio systems modified to handle tooth-rattling bass. If you’re driving without a true trunk of funk, consider lowering the bass to a level below the factory settings before pressing play. The song trades on a famous Mae West line as Miss Spears sings, “Is that money in your pocket, or are you happy to see me?”

“If U Seek Amy,” produced by Max Martin, a collaborator who goes back to Miss Spears’ days as a Mouseketeer, is one song you won’t hear on the radio unless those at the Federal Communications Commission can’t spell. It’s the best song on the album - one I found myself repeating again and again.

The verses take the point of view of a supplicant seeking a few fleeting seconds with her obsession, while the chorus offers a sense of how this adulation empowers and discombobulates its object. With gleeful inappropriateness, Mr. Martin mixes Miss Spears voice to sound as if she’s singing after a hit of helium - a Mickey Mouse reference that rings out on the song’s syncopated chorus.

So forget that most people working through the kind of issues that plague Miss Spears do so with the aid of court-ordered parenting classes and community service. Forget the hodgepodge of producer and songwriter credits that leave one wondering whether Miss Spears did anything but clutch a lyrics sheet and warble into the microphone. “Circus” isn’t just the best work of Miss Spears’ career - it represents a coolly unapologetic first-person look at the gap between fame’s haves and have-nots, with tight grooves and contagious beats to ease the pain of the average listener’s anonymity.



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