Calling Britney Spears' life a circus is like saying Hurricane Katrina was a bit of a downpour.
In the past year or so alone, the dance-pop diva has been institutionalized, lost control of her finances and children, and derailed her career with that atrocious MTV VMAs performance.
Of course, that was then and this is now. A year is an eternity in pop. And Brit-Brit's all better now. Or at least, that's what she and her handlers would have you believe.
Circus -- which arrives Tuesday on Spears' 27th birthday -- is a somewhat brighter, lighter and tighter affair than 2007's dark, desperate and slapdash comeback effort Blackout. The beats are bouncier, the lyrics are more positive, and more often than not, Britney sounds like she's enjoying herself -- or at least somewhat engaged in the process.
Having said that, Circus is still about as unoriginal and predictable as its title. There are a few decent club bangers, plenty of forgettable filler, a couple of so-so ballads, and some embarrassing dreck. And it still feels more like a piece of generic, assembly-line product than a unified artistic statement.
But hey, if you're looking for high-class entertainment, you're in the wrong place. Like the circus, Britney is all about cheap thrills and easy laughs.
An irresistible bump 'n' grind electro-boogie topped by a sultry stammering vocal. We'd say it vaguely echoes Hey Big Spender -- if we thought anyone involved had heard that.
"I'm a put-on-a-show kind of girl," confesses Spears over pulsing synths and a big stomp-clap groove. Really? We hadn't noticed.
Out from Under 3:54
Three songs in, and we're already at the first swirly, tinkling ballad? We'll say this for Britney; she doesn't waste her time. As for ours ...
Kill the Lights 3:59
Sometimes Britney loves the paparazzi; sometimes she loves them not. But it's hard not to love this slick, futuristic and vaguely ominous dance-floor filler.
Shattered Glass 2:53
Surprise! It's another four-on-the-floor disco beat and more buzzy bass synths. Thankfully, a sparser arrangement and some staccato notes bump this closer to electro-pop.
If U Seek Amy 3:37
If you don't get the joke, don't worry -- Britney will spell it out for you on this regrettable slice of rubbery sleaze-cheese from Swedish hitmaker Max Martin.
Unusual You 4:23
"Nothing about you is predictable," says Britney, floating over a lush atmospheric synth-pop soundscape reminiscent of '80s Eurythmics. Fittingly, it's one of the most distinctive cuts here.
The pumping beats and swagger of the night before are replaced by the off-balance wooziness and husky vocals of the morning after. Based on a true story, no doubt.
Mmm Papi 3:22
Britney goes Latin! Between the hip-swivelling groove, the twangy guitar, the surfy organ lines and the silly vocals, this might be the most enjoyable cut on the disc. Pure fun.
This Underdogs number is dressed up with a syncopated rhythm, stabbing string synths, some vocorders and a lot of falsetto vocals, but it's still pretty lifeless.
Lace and Leather 2:48
A finger-popping bassline, some slinky synthesizers, a thwacking beatbox, sexy lyrics and even a squirrely solo -- it's like a Prince-penned Vanity Sixx track from the '80s. Not bad.
My Baby 3:20
Britney coos a self-indulgent, syrupy lullaby to her children ("My baby boo / Gotta thank you") for the mandatory closing ballad. Ick.