Top critical review
Out of the zone
on 22 January 2006
"In the Zone" may be the most under-the-radar thing that Britney Spears has done in years. And since it's all about clubbing, partying, and gettin' some, that's a pretty frightening statement. Graduating from vapid teen pop to vapid adult pop, Britney aims for early Madonna's style... and misses.
Her songs tend to be either wispy but passable ballads (the self-pleasure ode "Touch of My Hand" or the piano-led "Everytime") or vapid dance pop, like a collection of Kylie Minogue's rejects. Her duets are particularly embarrassing: "Me Against The Music" is mainly Spears muttering fast against an electronic backdrop, and the Ying Yang Twins make a forgettable appearance in the deeply embarrassing "(I Got That) Boom Boom."
Things go rapidly downhill as the album progresses, with the faux-sexy "Breathe On Me" and "Hook-Up." The lowest point is the leaden "Outrageous," which may be the worst-written song of last year ("Outrageous... when I move my body/Outrageous... when I'm at a party/Outrageous... in my sexy jeans"). There's a slight upturn with the weird but catchy "Toxic" and the wispy "Everytime," but those few listenable tracks are bogged down by all the empty dancepop.
There's little that's new about "In the Zone." Madonna did the poppy electronic beats long ago. But then, she never made an album quite like this -- the electronic synthesizing is so heavy and thick that it feels like muddy water. Spears's voice is the most synthetic part of the album, especially when laced with moans and gasps.
And partying hasn't done wonders or Britney's voice. She never could sing well to start with, but there's a strain and crack to her vocals that shows up despite the heavy electronic coverups. It's not written anywhere that good vocals are necessary for dancepop, but Spears is only passable (never good) in a few of the songs. She also cowrote several songs, which don't appear to have improved for her contribution. At best, they're mediocre. At worst, they're embarrassingly bad.
"In The Zone" was hailed as Spears' clubby, adult album, but it falls wide of the intended mark and sinks into the mire. Empty, mediocre and uninviting.