If I were Britney Spears' mom, I'd be... very rich! But I'd also be confused: The routine deluge of self-promotion that's accompanied the release of Spears' fourth album, In the Zone, has included a fair amount of anguished 'why-won't-the-media-leave-me-alone?' dropped purposefully into network-news interviews, VH1 specials, and high-profile magazine articles. Which is fair enough, especially for a young woman so relentlessly observed as Spears. Yet, more than anything, Zone seems to be about the singer's right to grow up and have a private life -- in public. In opener "Me Against the Music," she tells "all the people in the crowd" that she's "the only one dancing up in this place"; she discovers "the beautiful me" in the masturbation ode "Touch of My Hand" but achieves her liberation in her ability to tell people about it; in "Early Mornin'" she shakes her ass in the street one morning, right out where everyone can see. As she's a 22-year-old woman, of course, it's Spears' prerogative to confuse her mom and to be confused herself (and to shake her ass in the street one morning). But my problem with In the Zone isn't as a mother; it's as a listener, and with the exception of a couple of tracks here -- the crunked-out Ying Yang Twins vehicle "(I Got That) Boom Boom," R. Kelly's snake-charmed "Outrageous," the carefully cut disco gem "Toxic"-- this amble through ambivalence is dead boring, strapping all kinds of self-empowerment boilerplate to bland, teen-pop slush Jessica Simpson wouldn't rerun. Sometimes she runs; sometimes she hides -- we get it.
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