In The Zone
by Britney Spears, pop (2003)
Zomba/Jive, ASIN B0000DD7LB

What do you call a CD where it will be perfect if it isn't Britney Spears ruining every song with her helium-thin rusty foghorn vocals? If one can forget the desperate faux-lesbian stunt she pulled with Madonna, if one can overlook the ridiculous Britney Spears persona in the press, if one can ignore her vacant-eyed and unsexy near-nude photoshoots for magazines that mock her even as they use her haggard porn-actress expression to sell their magazines - not easy, I know - one may realize that In The Zone is packed with really good music.

Forget Me Against The Music, easily the weakest track in the CD as it's merely another rehash of the Oops, I Did It Again/Baby One More Time/Stronger formula. (I Got That) Boom Boom is indescribably infectious. Breathe On Me is the perfect and even incandescent hypnotic dance track that is sexier than any of Spears' desperate photoshoots. Showdown, the brilliant Bloodshy and Avant production, sees Spears swearing revenge on Justin Timberlake and all the men that wronged her, and it's fun. Every Mornin' is a rich and catchy tune with a hook that won't let go. And all these tracks share one common trait: the background vocalists are wonderful and they obligingly drown out Spears' scratchy vocals on the most part. When Spears finally gets her voice heard, I suspect that it's just to prevent any Milli Vanilli-like lawsuits from being filed by annoyed listeners.

From the really fabulous retro-sounding Bollywood-influenced (yes, really) dancefloor stomper Toxic (shame about needing Spears to stink up the joint, but the background vocals on the chorus are just fabulous and this song really makes me want to get up and dance) to the Arabic-influenced Outrageous to the paean to masturbation that is Touch Of My Hand to the reggae-influenced The Hook Up to the heartfelt ballad Shadow... there is really nothing wrong with In The Zone, production-wise. It's a fabulous CD, truly a feast of musical wonders, a testament to the amazing ear-candy that come from the sophisticated computer thingies they have in recording studios nowadays.

Unfortunately, it doesn't take long for me to realize that to get to the good musical parts, Britney Spears is the necessary evil I must endure. Her voice is horrible on many tracks and listening to her breathy but limited vocal range is made even more unbearable when I compare her inadequacies to the wonderful production and those really amazing background vocalists that should be given a standing ovation at the end of the day. The tracks on this CD will fly high in the hands of, oh, Kylie Minogue, Christina Aguilera (Shadow and Everytime will kill if Aguilera is singing them), or even Beyoncé. As it is, In The Zone proves that you can make great music if you have enough money to assemble the right people and get the right studios to work their magic, but there is just nothing you can do when you have them sung by someone with a limited vocal range like Britney Spears. Ain't that a shame. The songs on this CD deserve better.

Rating: 86

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