Reviewing the new Britney Spears album is a little tricky for me because my little brother recently moved to Seattle, and loves Britney Spears, and is going to be reading this, and I've been trying not to be such an asshole to the guy. The other night we were walking somewhere to play pool and Circus had just come out, and he was listening to it with outside-noise-reducing headphones I once traded him for a pair of shorts when I was in California and really needed shorts, and as he pulled off the headphones he said, "Here, listen to this, it's SO GOOD," and clamped the headphones on my head. The first sound: one of those big electronic pop-song thuds (did Michael Jackson invent the big electronic pop-song thud?), followed by echoing fuzz and scattered notes, and then Britney's voice singing, ungrammatically, over a loud beat: "There's only two kinds of people in the word: the ones that entertain and the ones that observe." Which right away made me think of Robert Benchley—do I win the prize for being the first person in history to think of Robert Benchley while listening to Britney Spears?—saying, "There are two kinds of people in the world: those who believe there are two kinds of people in the world and those who don't."
She goes on to sing that she is "the put-on-a-show kind of girl," she doesn't like the backseat, she likes being first, she is "like the ringleader," she calls the shots (some background girls reiterate breathily, "Call the shots"), she is "like a firecracker" ("I make it hot"), etc., etc.—it is a thorough burn-through of all the clichés related to being the best, the sexiest, the one in the spotlight, and it is all set to a rather basic background beat and nothing you would call a melody. And nearly a minute has elapsed! At this point, try not to rip off the headphones and slug your sibling, because you are on the verge of what can only be described as the Good Part of the Song. That it is unexpected, after such a slow build-up, makes it all the more Good. And nothing I write will be able to characterize its catchiness, but it's catchy, I think because she sings kind of fast and there is a buzzing static edge to everything and a semblance of a melody and lots of "Uh-huh"s in the background—it's the part where you imagine all the dancers losing their shit in the music video. And then the song kind of sputters to its previous tempo and she sings, "There's only two kinds of guys out there: ones that can hang with me and ones that're scared," and you have to wait a long time for the Good Part of the Song to make its resurgence—which, because it's a Britney Spears song, engineered to trap your mind, you always know it's going to do. Still, it doesn't trap your mind like, say, 2003's "Toxic." It is merely the title song, and catchiest of the 12, on a (how do I put this delicately?) not good album. Featuring some very half-hearted photos of Britney surrounded by circus paraphernalia. (I only know this because, a couple days later, my brother, having insisted that I hear the whole thing, came over and we put it on while I complained about major labels putting out nonalbums with only a song or two that's any good blah blah blah.)
Out of fairness, I just texted my brother to ask him what he would say if he were reviewing the album. What does a real fan think of this one? He replied: "I think it reminds me of her earlier CDs, which shows me she is really trying to get her act together and almost repeat what she originally did because that is what made her who she is. I think there are a few good club songs but also a bunch that are mellow, and if you listen to the lyrics you can really relate. The songs that are the big hits are really good though and definitely a newer sound for her and great for dancing and rocking out 2." Steven Frizzelle, ladies and gentlemen, born in California in 1987.