Say goodbye to Britney the virginal tease, and say hello, bay-bee, to Britney the freakazoid. None of that “not yet a woman” stuff this time around. There’s no question that Spears wants In the Zone to be erogenous, so she lays on the heavy breathing and offers herself for hookups on and off the dance floor. Madonna shows up in the album’s first song, “Me Against the Music,” as if endorsing Spears’ foray into come-hither posing and club-land beats. Nearly every song on In the Zone is a brittle, programmed rhythm track. This time, Spears promises to follow through on her come-ons: “I’ll let you touch me if you want,” she husks in the clever pop-dancehall “Showdown.”
High-risk behavior is fine with Spears. In “Brave New Girl,” she borrows Madonna’s “Material Girl” to praise a girl who goes out to get picked up. Spears succumbs to sexy guys in “The Hook Up,” “Breathe on Me,” “(I Got That) Boom Boom” and “Early Mornin’,” which has throbbing Moby production. And if there’s no lover available, there’s always “Touch of My Hand,” an ode to masturbation.
But the harder Spears tries to be Madonna or Janet Jackson, the less convincing she is. Her voice is so processed, its physicality almost disappears. R. Kelly can’t resist mocking her in his “Outrageous,” letting her boast about “my sex drive” and “my shopping sprees” with equal emphasis. In the Zone offers strip-club, 1-900 sex, accommodating and hollow. Beyond the glittering beats, Spears sounds about as intimate as a blowup doll.