Britney may have left the psych ward, but on Circus, she proves she’s still a freak. The clubby, adventurous pop on her sixth album — her first since getting committed and losing custody of her kids — would have made a fine follow-up to 2003’s In the Zone. “Toxic” producers Bloodshy & Avant hit pay dirt again with the melodic, glowing “Unusual You.” The Max Martin-produced “If U Seek Amy” (say it fast) is a saucy, swinging standout, and the photographer-taunting stomper “Kill the Lights” recalls the synth crush of 2007’s Blackout.
Britney’s vocals on Blackout sounded phoned in, but on Circus, she put in real studio time, actually singing some slow jams. Frou Frou’s Guy Sigsworth contributes “Out From Under,” Spears’ best ballad since “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman.” But there are creepy ones too: Danja’s “Blur” updates 2003’s hungover “Early Mornin’,” as the mom of two sighs, “Where the hell am I?” She does her kids a greater disservice with “My Baby,” the trite ballad dedicated to them. And Mommy shows she has psychodrama to spare on “Mmm Papi,” a go-go romp with daddy issues (“Grab me tight and don’t let go/Mmm Papa, love you”): Is it about the papa who controls her affairs or the paparazzi she had an affair with? The fact that we’re even curious shows Britney hasn’t lost her talent: Her fans still can’t look away.