22 November 2008

Britney Spears - Circus

“For me, art is therapy, because it’s like you’re expressing yourself in such a spiritual way,” says Britney Spears in her forthcoming MTV documentary, ‘For The Record’. Such spirituality can be found in the video for ‘Womanizer’, the arch first single from ‘Circus’, as she writhes away her worries, naked and oil-slathered over some steaming hot coals.

But everyone knows you don’t listen to a pop album for spirituality, nor usually soul-searching – yet on ‘Circus’, Britney’s lived up to the public information announcement given at the start of the confident, paparazzi-baiting ‘Kill The Lights’ – “our very own pop princess, now Queen of Pop” has created an intelligent, honest (and most importantly, brilliantly danceable) record with an intrinsic duality – the chorus of ‘Blur’, where she sings, “can’t remember what I did last night”, could be anyone’s hangover - but Britney’s well-documented personal history, and sweet natural voice breaking through the raspy processing lends it a strata of sad frankness  - it’s perhaps her most accomplished ballad to date.

‘Circus’ isn’t a record where Britney makes any bones about her newly rediscovered self-esteem – on the subliminally filthy ‘If U Seek Amy’ (do I have to spell it out?), she defiantly sings, “love me, hate me, say what you want about me”, her roboticized voice leading the synth-heavy artillery beneath; challenges pretenders to her throne on ‘Rock Me In’ (which sounds more than a little like DFA’s ‘North American Scum’), and never makes the rookie mistake of working with big-name producers who could upstage her by rapping their territory across her songs. ‘Mmm Papi’ sees a playful Britney giggling “let’s make out” over a jaunty guitar line and fizzy cymbal ting which tickle the edges of Bollywood OSTs, and ‘My Baby’ is a ballad to her children, which, despite being more sickly than a Christmas Quality Street overload, is the most honest song on the record, so personal it almost feels intrusive to listen.

On ‘Blackout’, we saw Britney goading and wildly confronting the eyes that follow her every move, but just over a year later, ‘Circus’ sees her take a more reflective turn on events. Although musically, it’s neither groundbreaking nor particularly innovative, it’s Britney’s bold, raised-eyebrow risqué delivery and refreshing honesty that might give dirty pop music the spiritual re-awakening that it’s long been in need of. Madonna, step down. Britney’s back.


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