In The Zone
etarded Music Journalist Rhetorical Britney Question Number 1; The question is, does anybody care about Britney anymore?
Fact: Even if In The Zone bombs it’ll shift five times the units of Kish Kash. So shut the fuck up.
In many ways you could consider In The Zone to be Britney’s retort to the massive commercial and critical successes reaped by Justin over the last 14 months. You’d be right, but you’d be missing the point. In The Zone is Britney’s retort to everybody who’s reaped commercial and/or critical success over the two years since she dropped her eponymous third album. 12 tracks, 12 staggeringly efficacious stabs at that modern hip pop music thang that Britney herself kick-started when she was still in school uniform. In The Zone is tight, taut, lithe and hyper-aware. It’s also as thrillingly, maddeningly intangible, transient and disposable as the girl herself.
Supposedly In The Zone is also Britney’s most ‘personal statement’ yet, but if this is the case I’d be severely worried about Miss Spears’ mental health. Lyrically much of the material here is phone-booth come-on-card stuff, cartoon parodies and stabs at sexuality and lasciviousness that ring more hollow than Big Ben. “I’ll let you touch me if you want” Britney murmurs during “Showdown” and the effect is only marginally more sexy than Beyonce licking her finger and running it down her cleavage in the “Crazy In Love” video (hint; this is the least sexy thing in the world, just look in Beyonce’s fucking eyes she is evil evilevil, she has no joy or desire or life in her eyes she is a shark shark vampire shark give her your kisses give her your blood give her your Jay-Z [how come Britney got to be a little gurl fantasy and Beyonce didn’t? Paedophiles are all white, yeah?]).
Britney’s faux-naif act has long since passed into folklore. How long she stayed a virgin is no longer a question (not now that Justin did the shag & tell, anyway), even if she’s stating “monogamy is the way to go / just put your lips together and blow” (stealing from your idol’s idol = postpostmodern hyperacceleration to the max, right?) during “Breathe On Me”. Beyonce looks as if she never has sex because it takes away precious time from marketing meetings and business seminars, Xtina looks as if she never has sex unless she’s absolutely strung-out to the point of catatonia on high-end pharmaceuticals, and Britney… Britney looks like she… Well, “your toxic tongue slipping under… I’m addicted to you but you know that you’re toxic…” – she’s afraid of sex, isn’t it obvious? Like many people who believe in ‘love’ (dur) Britney’s got this fucked-up concept of some kind of transcendental spiritual nourishment which blurs the lines between love (fake) and sex (real), which is the main reason why most people end up in therapy or on anti-depressants at some point in time in this fucked-up, hyper-materialist Judeo-Christian money-polluted biosphere that tells you you’re going to heaven if you’re good and at the same time pushes the most callously reductionist existential hedonism as a desirable lifestyle.
But never mind the lyrical triteness and ontological posturing. What about the beats and tunes and stuff? Moby lays down some sublime, liquid electro-pop on “Early Morning” which totally beats the shit out of his own last two albums. Madonna vamps it up (literally – her appearance here is not Sapphic but vampiric, the wizened old crone bleeding another period of forced longevity into her career like a cruenating corpse leaking plasma backwards) on “Me Against The Music”, but can’t make it a bad tune. There’s a guy on backing vocals in R Kelly’s “Outrageous” taking off Marlene Shaw in the style of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. For a split-second “Brave New Girl” reminds me, ever so slightly, of Dee-Lite’s seminal and spectacular “Groove Is In The Heart”, before doing Madonna better than Madonna has done Madonna for at least 8 years.
In The Zone sounds magnificent at the precise moment the needle is on the vinyl, or the laser is on the disc, or the whatever-the-fuck happens with the MP3, but I’m buggered if I can remember a single chorus or hook once it’s finished, even if they’re brilliant at the point of contact. Still, pop music’s all about the moment, right? “Touch Of My Hand” is a great moment. But not an outstanding song. Too often this is the case here, the cybernetic pop sheen dazzling your senses only to fade like heat-derived mirages once the windows are opened and fresh air creeps in.
Britney’s been in this game in one way or another for her entire life, and, much like Michael Jackson and innumerable other child-stars who carry celebrity through adolescence into adultescence, identity is a big problem. More so even than Marilyn Monroe, Britney Spears is an empty vessel to be projected into, a means of escape and fantasy for a million different people in a million different ways. But not Britney herself. You can see it in her little-girl-lost interview persona, hear it in her meaningless mission-to-please lyrics, and perceive it in the disparate array of Frankensteins lined up to try and mould her into the perfect pop production that pleases all of the people all of the time. In The Zone, then, IS Britney’s most personal statement. Because it’s as lost and macilent and alluring and eager to please and disturbingly empty-eyed as she is.