It's anybody's guess how two such high-profile pop acts as Take That and Britney Spears came to release albums with the same title on the same day – especially as neither bothers to develop the circus theme to any extent, save for Spears's claim to be "the ringleader" in her title track, the latest admission of her pathological desire to be the centre of attention ("all eyes on me in the centre of the ring, just like a circus") that made last year's Blackout such a grisly, charmless car-crash experience.
Circus is almost as charmless, but at least it succeeds better than its predecessor in their intention of portraying the former Mouseketeer as some kind of robotic nymphomaniac doll – groaning and grunting "let's make out" with the chilly distance of a future-sex cyborg unit in "Mmm Papi", before plugging directly into the notion of synthetic, emotionless sex with a faceless pleasure-droid in "Mannequin". It's as if her own life is so beset with emotional turmoil that she can't bear any more intrusive feelings in her personal relations. But there are certain standards to maintain even in the world of diva-sex, and while the slap bass lends an apt Seventies porno-funk flavour to the erotic-floorshow anthem "Lace and Leather", the titular pun of "If You Seek Amy" is crass: the entire song is simply an excuse for Spears to sing "All of the boys and all of the girls want to F-U-C-K me", about as cheap as sensationalist outrage gets.
There are glimmers of a more considered attitude towards relationships, with "Blur" notably depicting the morning-after anxieties of an alcoholic libertine: "Where the hell am I? Who are you? What did we do last night?". But the accidental effect of playing such a pop-tart nympho on so many tracks is that the songs in which she's required actually to express feelings, such as the ghastly devotional ballad "My Baby", simply drown in the tidal wave of ersatz emotion, as if she's faked it for so long that she's lost access to the real thing.
But there are moments of salvation, even if they're incidental things like the echoes of New Order's sombre hedonism in the chord structure of "Unusual You", or the way Spears's rhythmic stutter ("Boy don't try to front, I-I-I-know just-just what you are-I-I") brings a surreal flavour of Scottish country-dancing to the prancing techno single "Womanizer". "Radar", an irritatingly catchy electropop groove by Bloodshy & Avant, will doubtless follow "Womanizer" and the title track into the charts, though they do Spears's reputation as a singer no favours. The only track that does is "Amnesia", an ill-judged attempt to route the dramatic, epic-pop style of Lieber & Stoller, Spector and Springsteen through the big-beat rave era, on which her vocals are the lone saving grace.
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