It's doubtful, after the huge success that Britney Spears has achieved in her 27 years, that she ever thought she'd have to prove herself again. Her personal troubles have been well-documented in the tabloids - but underneath the rumour-mongering and sensational headlines remains a bona fide 21st century pop star. Or, at least, there used to be. Her last effort Blackout (recorded at the tail-end of her woes) was a potentially decent record, ruined by over-production and unnecessary indulgences in the studio.

So, now that she's presumably free of her personal demons, you'd expect Circus to be a return to 'old Britney'. Unfortunately, though, that's not the case; the elements that blighted Blackout remain in full glare here, with one difference - the songs are only marginally better.

Even still, 90% of Circus remains mired in the same synth/electro-glazed studio trickery that serves no purpose whatsoever, except to weigh these tracks down with the same midtempo, dull-as-ditchwater effects. No doubt about it, the title track is as slick as you'll hear on a pop record these days, and Shattered Glass, If U Seek Amy and Womanizer are zippy, smooth numbers that will sparkle through the speakers of a sweaty club. The downside to these thumping club-style tracks, however, is that there's consequently no room left for subtleties - which is where Spears's strength as a pop artist lies.

Once again, we see chinks of potential on Radar (a song with a marvellously catchy hook that will refuse to leave your head), the Latino bubblegum pop of Mmm Papi, and the funky, slap-bass-tastic '80s-influenced Lace and Leather. You're still left with the feeling, however, that Britney needs to get out of the studio, buy a piano or a guitar, and basically learn how to write great pop songs again - or at least find someone who will.