Let me be the first to state the obvious: that is the worst title for a pop single ever. It brings to mind crapping-toddler birthday card designs in its tumourous cuteness, and when you imagine it sung you imagine it accompanied by a winsome giggle-gurgle of mock-embarassment. Typing it out makes my fingers squirm.

The title is all the more baffling when you listen to the single, lyrically Britney’s tuffest yet – sort of. She’s still crying, a fool, etcetera ad nauseam, but she’s also leading some hapless boy foil on, and the big winking hook is “I’m not that innocent”. So now you know. Musically, “I Did It Again” (think of that as the title and it all becomes much less painful) is a slippery thing, hookful but not as grand-guignol sledgehammer-catchy as her other stuff. Most of it is production-line Abba-stomp, and it passes the time, but it’s the weird structural and production touches that make you listen again. The jagged beat it starts with promises wonderful new levels of machine-pop hardness, but they don’t really appear: what you do get is so much vocal manipulation and mannerism that all sense of this being a recording of an event – of an actual singer singing an actual song – slips completely below the radar.

The emergent teenpop aesthetic seems to involve rejections of such musical centres in favour of stunt vocals and a choreography of effect. This is music for dancing and snogging, like pop always has been, but also blipvert music for surfing the web and playing video games and watching TV: The oddest moment in “I Did It Again” is when the tune distorts and slows and a crackly bit of soapy dialogue comes on, totally unrelated to the song, and providing an attention-break just like an ad break or a station ident or a pop-up window. Which renders criticism along tradpop lines even more redundant, because the aims of album rock are now just so alien to what’s happening in the charts. I’ve deprogrammed myself pretty thoroughly from rockist preconceptions and even I feel pretty lost when it comes to a record like this – the critics are speaking a different language.