Saturday, November 29, 2008

Album Review: Britney Spears - In the Zone (2003, 4.5/5)

As the release of Britney's sixth studio album Circus creeps up, I thought I'd take a lengthy reminiscent back to 2003s In the Zone, which I think is indeed her best album in her entire catalog. In the Zone marked Britney's departure from her sugary-sweet bubble-gum pop cuts, embracing a more cutting edge, adult sound. Her debut album ...Baby One More Time was simple yet remarkably well crafted into perfect cut pop --bringing the help of pop genius, Max Martin, who produced the title track which was among the albums best highlights (along with "Born To Make You Happy"). It's follow up Oops!... I Did It Again used the same formula, indulging in a more aggressive state of pop (on "Stronger" and "Don't Go Knockin' On My Door").

Her third album Britney was a slight departure from bubble-gum pop, teaming up with The Neptunes and Rodney Jerkins, the album spawned its key hit accompanying her successful transition from sexy, mid-riff baring teen to fiery, sexed up vixen ("I'm A Slave 4 U") backed with sultry and layered vocals. Max Martin also put his touch on the album to keep up the Pop side. The album also spawned the whispery, broiling ("Boys") which is among my favorite songs her.

Catching us up to In the Zone. Ditching the help of long time producer Max Martin, Britney pulled in the help of Bloodshy & Avant, who produced her biggest hit in years "Toxic", a dramatic, bond-themed, guitar-backed number, with a just as equally dramatic video. The rush of violins during various portions of the song never failed to amuse me. Also hopping abord the Britney-bandwagon was R. Kelly who produced the flirtatious, urban, indian-styled "Outrageous", the song has a killer chorus --a cloying, dulcet combination between whispered vocals and background sonant. Moby churns out the throbbing and pulsating "Early Morin" which is backed with a blustery and buoyant chorus.

In the Zone is a nourishing consolidation between Pop AC and Firey Urban AC. The hot collaboration with rap stars, The Ying Twins on "Boom Boom" is very out of the blue, definitely something I didn't expect when I first listened through the album. Thrusting rhythmic handclaps and drums against a hardcore hip-hop bassline, followed by random screams from The Ying Yang Twins and a very voluptuous vocal performance from Britney. Admittedly this song took awhile to grow on me, but now I really do love it. "The Hook Up" carries another surprise --an irascible jamaican vibe, even finding Britney adopting a terrible Jamaican accent during the round off of the bridge. The broiling "Showdown" also has a distinctive Caribbean vibe, another one that took awhile to grow me --I always thought the verses were very weak and uninspired-- now I think their sexy and sultry.

The underappreciated collaboration with Queen of Pop, Madonna on the lead single "Me Against The Music" is an ultimate favorite. I love the recurring guitar and drums in the song --the incredibly fastly sung hook. Madonna does a good job on her part, the bridge and the breakdown is very libidinous. "Brave New Girl" is strangely very more pop than anything else on the album, bringing in synthesizers, vocoders and what-not. I love the blusterous chorus.

In the Zone constitutes 2 key animalistic moments on the throbbing "Breathe On Me" which finds some deeply oppressive vocals, backed with an enticing, resonating bassline. "Touch Of My Hand" is the most provocative song on the album as it's suppose to simulate masturbation with lyrics like: "I shut myself out from the world so I can draw the blinds... I love myself it's not a sin, I can't control what's happening". The song carries a very mellow, enchanting vibe. I love it.

The best song on the album is The Matrix-produced "Shadow" --which I love to pieces. The song starts out very mellow dramatic, with wolf howls and faint piano keys, building through a rush of delicate violins before everything ties in together in the climax of the song (drums, violins, piano keys and faint strings). Britney's vocal performance is stunning on here. The Guy Sigworth-produced "Everytime" is another favorite, finding Britney using very gentle vocal work on here. These 2 songs are possible among her best ballads ever.

In the Zone is a fantastic offering, definitely Britney at her best, creatively. So, What does the upcoming Circus have in store, from what I've heard so far, It couldn't be any more different to this --verging more similar to 2007s Blackout. It's lead single, the electronic "Womanizer" definitely holds a promising status for the upcoming album. I can't Wait.

Best Tracks: Shadow, Toxic, Everytime, Me Against The Music, Breathe On Me, Showdown, Touch Of My Hand, Outrageous, Early Mornin', Boom Boom

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