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Listening Room: Britney Spears, Neil Young and more...
Britney Spears, “Circus” (Jive) **
Given the “Circus” of bad behavior, tabloid titillation and legal woes that’s been her life for the past couple of years, you’d expect Britney Spears — who by all accounts and evidence has effectively cleaned up her act — to have something to say on her latest album. And she does — that she still likes boys, likes to have sex, has pet names for her lovers and hates the paparazzi. Oh, she loves her sons, too, which is nice enough to hear. But Spears’ sixth solo album is a mostly vapid exercise on which an A-list of writers and producers — including her original hitmaker Max Martin, Nate “Danjahands” Hill, Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald and Guy Sigsworth — play to the lowest common denominator, giving us a Spears-as-pop-tart outing with a set of songs that could largely be sung by anyone else in the pop realm. “Kill the Lights,” for instance, has a synthetic swirl that recalls ex-beau Justin Timberlake’s “Sexyback,” while the title track on “Circus” sounds like it was plucked from the Janet Jackson canon. The club tracks — “Womanizer,” “Shattered Glass,” “Mannequin,” “Radar” — are interchangeable, both with each other and with songs from the album’s deluxe edition, at least three of which (“Amnesia,” “Trouble” and “Phonography”) are actually better. In “If U Seek Amy,” Martin has given Spears perhaps the most non-sensical track of her career, while “Mmm Papi,” one of two songs the singer co-wrote gives us insights into her sexual proclivities that we’d just as soon have left to our imaginations. What works? A couple of ambient, chill tracks in the middle of the album, “Unusual You” and the morning-after lament “Blur,” pull Spears into some slightly fresh territory, while an old school bass line and synthesizer solo spice up an otherwise tepid come-on. Sadly, that’s about as exciting as this “Circus” gets.
Neil Young, “Sugar Mountain — Live at Canterbury House 1968” (Reprise) ***
Say what you will about Neil Young’s long-delayed “Archives” box set; he’s at least appeasing us a bit with gems like this from his continuing Archive Performance Series. The third installment hails from two November 1968 shows in Ann Arbor, solo acoustic dates that find Young fresh out of Buffalo Springfield and five days shy of his 23rd birthday on the weekend before the release of his first solo album. It’s an intimate exposition in which the songs — including winning takes of “On the Way Home,” “Mr. Soul,” “The Loner,” “Trip to Tulsa,” “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing” and, of course, “Sugar Mountain” — aren’t less the star of the show than Young’s banter about the length of his hair, songwriter, guitar tunings, an ill-fated two-week stint working in a Toronto book store and writing “The Old Laughing Lady” at 4 a.m. in a Detroit White Tower restaurant following a 1964 show at the old Chessmate club. Recorded directly onto two-track reel-to-reel, it’s the kind of album that makes you wish you were there — but also makes you feel like you are.
NEW & NOTEWORTHY:
A Filial, “$1.99” (Verge): This Brazilian hip-hop troupe stirs together a sonic stew of beats, rhymes, rocks, bossa nova, samba, jazz tropicalia and more on its first U.S. release.
Akon, “Freedom” (Konvict Muzik/Universal Motown): The Senegalese vocalist’s third album includes collaborations with Lil Wayne, Young Jeezy, T-Pain, Wyclef Jean and others — but not “Hold My Hand,” his leaked duet with Michael Jackson.
Al Jourgensen, “Wicked Lake” (13th Planet):This “solo” outing by the Ministry and Revolting Cocks leader is a
score for the movie of the same name, in which Jourgensen
Medusa, “En Raga Sul” (Hawthorne Street): Three members of Indianapolis’ Racebannon regroup for a
similarly hard-hitting new sludge-rock band.
Panic at the Disco, “Live in Chicago” (Decaydance/ Fueled By Ramen): A CD/ DVD package capturing the Las
Vegas group’s latest tour during a stop in the Windy City.
Omara Portuondo, “Gracias” (Producciones Montuno): The 60-year Cuban veteran and Buena Vista Social Club member covers a wide stylistic terrain on her latest
Scarface, “Emeritus” (Asylum): The ninth studio album from the Geto Boys member surfaces after being
delayed from its original Sept. 30 release date.
Soundtrack, “Cadillac Records” (Music World/ Columbia): Beyonce channels Etta James on this companion album, which comes in standard and deluxe editions
and also features her sister, Solange, Raphael Saadiq, Mos
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Frank Zappa, “Lumpy Money” (Zappa Family Trust): A three-CD audio “documentary” celebrating the 40th
anniversary of two of the late artist’s most famous albums, “Lumpy Gravy” and “We’re Only In It For the Money.”
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