Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Britney's Circus Is No Freakshow

Womanizer--Doesn't warrant critique.  Everyone has heard it.  The good news it, it's one of the worst tracks on the album.
Circus--Britney is the ringleader.  Or, uh, like a ringleader.  She says.  OK, she's a puppet, but this song is sooo fun.  The sound is a lot like a lot of the tracks from Blackout, except either the production was way better or Britney was actually at least partly lucid when she recorded this.  She's heavily programmed and her voice is sliced and diced, as we expect, but you can actually hear some emotion in there...somewhere.
Out from Under--This is a sweet ballad, and something about it sounds very Duncan Sheik "I Am Barely Breathing," though I'm not sure why, exactly.  Maybe it's all the breathy vocals.  But whatever, this song is a huge triumph for someone with Britney's limited vocal capacity.  It's kind of gorgeous, actually.
Kill the Lights--People will love this song.  It's good Britney, and it's what you expect from a successful Spears song.  That's also the problem with it; on an album that's full of surprises, it's kind of disappointing to hear this in that context.  (Same with Womanizer.)  But this'll be fun to dance to in clubs; lots of terrible "Vogue"-style posing cues.  ("Mr photographer/I think I'm ready for my close-up/Make sure you catch me from my good side/Pick one")
Shattered Glass--This song is too short...and that's a good thing.  Clocking in at under two minutes, this is a quick-and-dirty 70s/80s hybrid.  It's really interesting, actually, how the verses are pure disco and the chorus is totally '80s.  It's two floors of a retro club in one song!
If You Seek Amy--Damn this song!  Was I actually duped by the subversive-yet-completely-transparent workings of the Britney Spears machine at Jive?!  I sang this song dozens of times, loving it from its dark and strangely giddy calliope synths, by the disjointed and something's-not-quite-right-lyrics, and by the undeserved maniacal delivery that Spears gives the phrase "If you seek Amy" throughout the song.  And then I found out what she's actually saying, and now it's just really creepy.  The song is by far one of Brit's top ten tracks sonically, but with her past and knowing how she's been so used by her producers, boyfriends, et al., I really don't want to hear her making the urgent plea, "oh baby baby eff you see kay me tonight/We'll do whatever you like!"  It makes me sad. :-(  No, Britney.  I'm not going to eff you see key you at all.  You kind of scare me.  Go take a Seroquel and turn in early, k?
Unusual You--An unusually sophisticated, mature, and intelligent song and performance from Britney and her wizards.  This song was a total surprise to me.  "Unusual You" features all the highlights of Britney Spears's voice, including some discordant notes, which are collaged and layered for an effect that couldn't be accomplished with everyone's vocals.  It's nice that the producers left a human quality to her voice, even if the rest of it is heavily Autotuned.  The lyrics are strong, too, and they fit Britney's public image and very possibly her private feelings.  The music is otherworldly; it's a flashback to the accomplished trance of the mid-/late-1990s--think early BT or Robert Miles.  This song is perfect.  And it is hands down the greatest Britney Spears product produced to date, even if it isn't meant to be a commercially viable CD.  (It's no "Oops!"--and that's a great thing at this stage in her life and career.)
Blur--"Turn the lights out/This shit is way too fuckin bright/Want to put my eyes out/If you wanna mess with my eyesight/Just let me get my head right/Where the hell am I/Who are you/What'd we do last night?"  That's how this song opens.  If Britney had written it, the lyrics would be laudable.  But she didn't, and so it's not quite as striking.  Besides the lyrics, the song isn't very memorable.  Not bad, but pretty "eh."
Mmm Papi--I have no opinion of this one.  It's a little creepy what with the whole orgasmo-groan "mmm Papa ooh Papi love you!" thing, since some of this sounds like it's actually meant to be communicated to a...father.  But, uh, I'll just leave it alone.  Hopefully the details behind this one will remain a blur.
Mannequin--This song would fit better on Blackout.  Britney Spears, the human being, is absolutely absent in this song.  She was possibly conscious when she recorded the lyrics, but Danja has processed them to the point at which calling Brit's vocals Velveeta would be too organic a metaphor.  The sound is...interesting--but the song itself has the feel of an experiment and not much more.  "My face is like a mannequin"?  No idea what that means or why this song made it onto this album other than "it sounds cool."
Lace and Leather--This song would fit much better on Madonna's "Hard Candy," and it would be better sung by Christina Aguilera.  It's a nice little 80s throwback, but it's nothing special.
My Baby--The titular baby is an actual baby, not an "oh baby" baby.  And even more impressive, Britney actually had a hand in writing this song.  That's kind of a relief given that the song is a syrupy little ode to her baby--which one got the shaft, we wonder?--and the lyrics aren't actually embarrassing.  Neither are the vocals.  It's not a great song, but hearing Mama Spears sound so sincere and knowing that she helped to make that happen go a long way in re-humanizing her.  Hearing Britney raise her naturally lowish voice to a falsetto that sounds like more of an effort for her than Justin Timberlake's sounds to be for him is interesting; it suggests that Britney is trying.  And that's really the key to this album's soul  We do not expect great things from Britney Spears, but any indication of free will being exercised feels like a major triumph. 
Listen to "Unusual You":

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