On the title track of her new album, Britney Spears deems herself the ‘ringleader’ and ‘the one who calls the shots’, a claim to which her personal life (or at least the messy version proffered by the tabloid press) could scarcely lend any less credence. Yet as last year’s excellent Blackout demonstrated, Spears has a knack for transforming real-world chaos into in-studio control; ‘Piece Of Me’, that disc’s best cut, was grown-up vinegar undiluted by teen-idol oil.
Circus is not as strong as its predecessor. For one thing, it lacks the element of surprise that benefited Blackout, as Spears has been showing signs of increasing professional and psychological stability all year long – the most dramatic thing about her guest appearance at Madonna’s Dodger Stadium show in November was its total lack of drama. For another, the new album isn’t without its share of filler, including ‘Mannequin’, a tuneless electropop workout, and ‘Lace And Leather’, whose zippy vintage-’80s production fails to redeem its lyrical clichés about sugar rushes and looking but not touching.
Still, the best of these dozen tracks are among Spears’s most appealingly headstrong. Over a pounding disco-glam groove in opener ‘Womaniser’, she kisses off ex-husband Kevin Federline with more class than he deserves. ‘Kill The Lights’ is a sassy ‘Piece Of Me’ sequel that whines about the paparazzi without sounding whiny, and ‘If U Seek Amy’ lets Katy Perry know who was experimenting back when ‘I Kissed A Girl’ was a Jill Sobule song. It’s Britney, b**** – and she’s still back. Mikael Wood.
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Scarface picked a slick title for his ninth and – supposedly – final album. The grizzled Houston rapper’s current status in hip-hop already suggests that of a long-tenured professor. Though only occasionally heard from, he still holds sway over the curriculum – see 2002’s The Fix, a commercially marginal but highly influential LP that helped give the ‘coke-rap’ phenomenon its legs. Considering the fleeting appeal that ‘retirement’ seems to hold for rappers (see Jay-Z and, um, Scarface, who’s threatened to put down the mic several times before), it smartly leaves the door open for a return.
But like a semi-retiree with his mind on the golf course, ’Face coasts his way through certain Emeritus obligations – namely ‘Forgot About Me’, a mediocre tête-à-tête with Lil Wayne and Bun B that should have been phenomenal, given the level of charisma involved. When left solely to his own devices, though, the former Geto Boy delivers typically devastating results. ‘Can’t Get Right’ is the sort of financial report (‘Gasoline five dollars, how the f*** we gon’ drive/Can’t afford to fill our prescriptions so we all gon’ die’) that Young Jeezy promised but didn’t deliver on The Recession. And ‘High Powered’, which taunts hated H-Town rival Lil’ Troy over a ghostly beat from longtime collaborator NO Joe, makes for a delightfully unlikely lead single.
There’s no question that Emeritus is a respectable closing statement from the impeccably consistent rapper. But it’s not so definitive that news of a follow-up wouldn’t be welcomed. Jesse Serwer.
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