Editor's Note: I have unearthed the first four album reviews that were ever done on Musiqtone.com, which at the time was called MusicMania until the name change on February 8, 2005. This is the first official review of MusicMania, the official launch of what is today The Critics Corner, penned on November 24, 2003.
If you can speak about Britney Spears from a music perspective in 2003, all you can say is "How?" Easy, we liked and still even now like our music half-baked, conceited, and sung by cute boys or hot girls. That was 1999, when Britney Spears was at the height of her popularity with "Oops I Did It Again," which remains the highest-selling album she has and is no.2 behind 'N SYNC's No Strings Attached as the top-selling album in the past four years. Fast forward to 2003, idols like Justin, Britney, and Christina all have grown up both musically and literally. Or, are all three? Well we know that Justin has, with Justified on his belt, a new sound that makes him a rising star in music. Christina Aguilera? Definitely. After playing shy coy girl opposite Britney Spears, she has spread her wings and given new meaning to that old term "sexually charged" songs. But she mixes it with a lot of poignant songs with rock, R&B, and Latin influences that deal with so-called grown-up issues, whatever that may be. But for 22-year old Britney Spears?
Well, here's my verdict: Her new LP, In The Zone, which came out on Tuesday November 18, 2003 is supposed to mark Britney's ascension to the plateau already paved by the former teen idols, comes incredibly short. She has made a career out of flaunting her sexuality, no matter how bad of an effort it is and In the Zone is no different. In fact, it might just be an extension of 2001's self-titled LP, which flopped like a dead fish. Starting off the album is the horrible overplayed "Me Against The Music." The more I listen to it, the more horrible it got. The song is incredibly conceited and fragmented, just like the video that accompanied it. Track 2 was just another vintage Britney song, all sex (from a teen perspective) and nothing else. "Breathe On Me" however was very interesting. Spears was still in the sex mode but it was from an adult perspective and it's something Britney might want to explore next time especially since perpetual rival Aguilera already dominates that arena of music creativity. Unfortunately, it's the only time Spears does that. She goes back to that tired formula that made her such a superstar in tracks 5-7. Beware of Track 6 however, by the third time, I got entranced by the beat and ended up beating my foot to the entire track. But that distracting string glissando that was obviously synthesized is high enough to pierce eardrums, especially to those who like their music as loud as it can be. "Touch of My Hand" is another interesting song not because it's the same old style, but the quasi-Oriental feel to it. So at least the producers were creative. Oh and it's about our favorite activity, a sort of subtle tribute to the human activity of masturbation. Oh...behave!
Tracks 10-12 were the best part of an average LP. "Shadow" was sort of Britney's explanation to the media that she has grown up despite what they say to us. No Britney, you haven't and you're not even close. It takes about 9 tracks before we hear songs that tell us that you are 22 and not 16. I might classify you as somewhere in between but that's all. "Brave New Girl," depending on how critics more crass than me take the LP, could turn out to be yet another anthem telling girls and women alike to liberate themselves. "Everytime" is definitely by far her most poignant song ever even though it sounds like a 15 year old broken-hearted girl wrote it. But I bet that's what Britney felt like after getting dumped by Justin amidst allegations that she was cheating with a cameraman and Fred Durst (who hates her guts now).
Unfortunately, this is where I have to draw the line. I am sick and tired of albums that stick in remixes of songs. They serve to annoy the consumer and also serve as filler material. What? Producers run out of ideas? According to reports, they had over 90 songs and they whittled it down to just 13 and the 13th could have been one out of over 77 songs they rejected? You can do a hell lot better than that. As my exec VP Peter Burke says, "Remixes are done by people who can't play instruments." I say remixes are done by producers who have just run of creative juices even though they have a full slate of rejected songs they could have put in.
My final verdict: Can you spell average? In The Zone in the end shows that while Britney may now be old enough to party around like Paris Hilton without being hauled by police (ha ha), she still has plenty way to go. I think she has trouble letting go of her past as indicated by the nature of 2/3's of the LP and that if she wants to save her career, she better explore the creativity that went behind tracks 10-12, "Touch of My Hand" and "Breathe On Me." With the exceptions of those, the rest is all vintage Britney, all sex and style and no substance. In an era where music needs substance, Britney falls way short of that zone. Hence the headline. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give this a 2.7. I came in thinking this would be a tank but in the end, I was surprised and even impressed by some of the songs here. And to end, this is a lot better than that 2001 flop but that's not saying much however.
Songs I liked:
3. Brave New Girl
4. Breathe On Me
Don't ever or stop doing:
Remixes and songs with no substance. Even a little (think Hilary Diff) would help.
A good buy or not: Depends on your age folks. Girls 7-14, yeah, after you nag your parents to the point...you get it. 14-18, maybe if all you watch is the Disney Channel and the WB. Over? Maybe and that's a stretch.