Released in the tumultuous year 2003, Britney Spears’ fourth album In The Zone is much stronger than the critics initially gave her credit for. Why she tainted things by unnecessarily bringing “special guests” Madonna and the off-putting Ying Yang Twins onboard is unknown, because they only serve as annoying distractions.
Marrying bad boy Kevin Federline certainly didn’t keep Britney in good stead with her fans, and her appalling behavior as a new mom partying with the likes of Lindsey Lohan and Paris Hilton only added fuel to the media blaze. Subsequent stints in rehab and the psych ward (for bipolar disorder) brought Britney face to face with herself at the bottom of the barrel. After she so shockingly shaved her head bald and took an umbrella to a paparazzo’s car, it seemed as though all hope was lost for the fallen tragic superstar. Only in the world of rich and young Hollywood magic can someone so lost as Britney Spears be brought back from the brink by a team of lawyers, agents, doctors, managers, nannies, and other handlers.
Even though Britney started her career as a Mouseketeer, there was never anything genuinely innocent about her. She had turned the parochial school virgin on its ear for her first single, 1998’s “Baby One More Time” and continued to wear barely-there outfits both onstage and off. Her motto seemed to be “If you’ve got it, flaunt it,” though she did tend to take it a little too far at times. Being a role model was never high on Britney Spears’ list of priorities. If anything, this was one spoiled celebrity who had been given free rein to do whatever the hell she wanted.
This “devil may care” attitude is all over In The Zone, which has the most stylistic variation of any Britney album. You want some electro robo-Britney? Try the sleek and exciting “Brave New Girl” on for size. How about a mean Kylie Minogue impression? There’s the carbon copy “Breathe On Me.” As if that wasn’t enough, she pulls off singing a Moby lyric just for kicks on “Early Morning” and has one hell of a fun time with the reggae splash that is “The Hook Up.” Musically, it all adds up to vintage Britney at her best.
On slower tunes like “Touch Of My Hand,” Britney sings in an awkward nasal and breathy falsetto, proving that she deserved to lose the Best New Artist to former friend and current rival Christina Aguilera. There is a glimmer of hope for her potential vocal ability on “Shadow,” which is designed to stand out here – but sadly, this track was never granted radio airplay. But Britney gives us a whiff of those REALLY bad things still to come in the lyrics to “Outrageous,” so nobody can say we weren’t warned.