In the Zone

by: Britney Spears

If 2001's Britney was a transitional album, capturing Spears at the point when she wasn't a girl, and not yet a woman, her 2003 follow-up, In the Zone, is where she has finally completed that journey and turned into Britney, the Adult Woman. Like her peer Christina Aguilera, Britney equates maturity with transparent sexuality and the pounding sounds of nightclubs, but since she's not as dirrty as Xtina, her spin is a little different. On In the Zone, Britney feels like the good girl next door cutting loose at college, since this is the first time she can indulge herself. She has been freed from her musical parent, Max Martin, who is absent for the first time from a Britney Spears album. Instead, Britney has decided to play the field and work with a bunch of different collaborators, including Madonna, Moby, the Matrix, Trixster Roy "Royalty" Hamilton, Bloodshy, and Avant, and R Kelly. Since she's so determined to be a woman, not a girl, she has completely shed the sugarcoated big hooks and sappy love songs that drove her stardom, concentrating on music that glides by on mellow grooves, or hits hard with its hip-hop beats. It's all club-ready, but despite some hints of neo-electro and the Neptunes, it doesn't quite sound modern -- it sounds like a cut from 1993, or Madonna's Bedtime Stories and Ray of Light. Production-wise, these tracks are not only accomplished, they're much more varied than any of her previous albums -- in particular, the sleek feel of Moby's "Early Mornin'," the alluring "Breathe on Me" from Mark Taylor, and the irresistible Bloodshy and Avant productions, "Showdown" and "Toxic." They make In the Zone surely her most ambitious, adventurous album to date. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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