Britney’s Circus lacks steady ringleader

Circus sold over half a million copies in its first week and over a million in its first four weeks, surpassing total sales of her last album. Britney Spears stands alone having four albums debut with over half a million copies sold. The lead single, “Womanizer” is Spears’ first number one single since “…Baby One More Time.”

Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and other starlets making music are in roughly the same position. They all have a lot of money they can spend on producers, but not a whole lot of musical talent. Whether it was her idea or just out of necessity, Spears has eschewed ballads and stuck to fast-paced electronic music.

Circus is really a producers’ album and is a very collaborative effort. Each song had between two and seven writers and producers, so no individual can claim ownership. Only four of the album’s 19 tracks were co-written by Spears, and the songs she did co-write are much less personal than those written for her.

Overall, Circus is less edgy and progressive than her previous comeback album, Blackout. Circus features Spears more, has better clever writing and less aggressive production. Blackout is more of a journal, while Circus is more of a novel but has more characters with whom she interacts.

Thankfully, Circus only has two and a half ballads to remind the listener of her lack of vocal chops. The first, “Out from Under,” has a simple arrangement and frail falsetto, but works well enough.

The second, “My Baby,” makes me embarrassed for her. She supposedly wrote much of the song while in the booth to record “Out from Under,” and it shows. The half ballad, “Unusual You” is a trippy song of confusion.

It’s surprisingly ethereal and trance-inducing. All in all, you should not listen to Circus for Spears’ voice. The songs that stand out have almost nothing to do with her performance.

Singles aside, some of the best songs are bonus tracks. The ones on the standard edition are “Shattered Glass,” “If U Seek Amy” and “Lace and Leather.”

“Shattered Glass” is a pretty straight-forward break-up song. It’s short (under three minutes), but that’s where the magic lies. The situation is less about the specific words and more about how many times her ex will probably think about her.

“If U Seek Amy” boarders on genius. It is very aware of its medium and exploits the affordances a song offers. The song does not make sense on paper, but that is not the way it is meant to be enjoyed. Let’s just say, it’s not a song about someone named Amy, which is obvious when the song title is read allowed.

“Lace and Leather” offers sonic elements that old school New Kids on the Block would relish. “Lace and Leather” does not succeed because of the lyrics, but instead because of the instrumentation, which is far more interesting than the lyrics.

The deluxe edition of the album is very worth it. It contains “Phonography,” “Amnesia” and maybe “Trouble,” if you’re lucky.

“Phonography” is about exactly what you think it is. The song has some pretty heavy suggestions. The instrumentation and production are amazing. The physical CD offers the best listen, all the elements perfectly balanced in full quality.

“Amnesia” makes the same promise as “Lace and Leather,” however, it is more catchy and fun. “Trouble,” the iTunes pre-order track, is the most standout track. It has the sickest beat as well as the simplest. The lyrics aren’t anything particularly good, but the chorus is interestingly (or maybe annoyingly) minimalist, with half being the word “trouble.”

Circus? Indeed, without Spears as the ringleader. With more writers and producers than tracks, Circus is proof that it does take a village to make a hit. Spears had a very minimal hand in the album, which is good because she left everyone to their jobs, and everyone is good at their jobs.

She was told what to do, and she happily does, without much ego, unlike Blackout (see the infamous VMAs). With so many hands involved, there were enough people to stop any crap from leaking out.