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In the Zone

Britney Spears

℗ 2003

Britney Spears • 2003 • In the Zone

If 2001's Britney was a transitional album, capturing Ms. Spears at the point when she wasn't a girl and not yet a woman, its 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. Where Christina comes across like a natural-born skank, Britney is the girl next door cutting loose at college, drinking and smoking and dancing and sexing just a little too recklessly, since this is the first time she can indulge herself. And that's what In the Zone is — Britney indulging herself, desperate to prove that she's an adult. She has been freed from her musical parent, Max Martin, who is absent for the first time from a Spears album, choosing instead to play the field and work with a bunch of different collaborators, including Madonna, Moby, the Matrix, Trixster, Roy "Royality" Hamilton, Bloodshy & 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 cuts from 1993 or Madonna's Bedtime Stories and Ray of Light. Production-wise, these tracks are not only accomplished but much more varied than any of her previous albums — in particular, Moby's "Early Mornin'" has a sleek feel, Mark Taylor's "Breathe on Me" is alluring, and the Bloodshy & Avant productions, "Showdown" and "Toxic," are irresistible ear candy in what is surely Britney's most ambitious, adventurous album to date. — Stephen Thomas Erlewine.

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