Just No Other Way (Epic/550 Music 63720)
It's not often that a foreign pop star can be described as an all-American girl, but that's definitely the case with CoCo Lee.
Born in Hong Kong but raised in California, Lee is one of the biggest stars in "Canto-pop," the Cantonese music market. Just 23, she has recorded 20 albums for the Chinese and Asian markets over the last five years, racking up a total 7.5 million sales. Not bad for someone who got her start by winning a karaoke contest in California.
But in many ways, Lee is a typical young Asian-American, having grown up on hamburgers, R&B; and basketball. That's the side that comes across in "Just No Other Way," her English-language debut. Unlike her Cantonese albums, which tend to stress balladry over dance beats, the songs on "Just No Other Way" are soulful and funky, placing Lee solidly in the realm of R&B; pop.
She's utterly at home with that sound, too. From the wah-wah guitars and hip-hop beats of "Crazy Ridiculous" to the slow-groove balladry of the title tune, Lee rides the rhythm like a pro, effortlessly twisting the melodies into soulful arabesques.
Trouble is, her singing is often more interesting than the material she's working with. "Do You Want My Love" is typical. With its mild innuendo and dance-oriented rhythm arrangement, the song is cut from the same cloth as Christina Aguilera's "Genie in a Bottle." But where "Genie" came on strong, with infectious hooks and an irresistible groove, "Do You Want My Love" merely sidles up to the listener, offering a strong chorus but a tepid pulse. So even though Lee sings the heck out of the song, there's not a lot to love about the recording.
Nor does it help that the album often sounds secondhand. "Before I Fall in Love," for instance, is a little too obviously modeled on Mariah Carey's early ballad hits, while "Wherever You Go" harks back to the Madonna of a decade ago. Nothing wrong with taking either artist as a reference point, of course, but Lee gets so much into the groove imitation-wise that she almost loses sight of her own sound.
Fortunately, such missteps are more the exception than the rule. "Can't Get Over," which teams Lee with Kelly Price, not only boasts some first-rate soul singing, but packs enough punch rhythmically to make it a memorable performance. Likewise, there's sufficient sass in the chorus and sizzle in the arrangement to carry "Crazy Ridiculous" to the heights promised by its chorus, while "Just No Other Way (To Love Me)" is delivered with enough passion and polish to suggest that Lee could easily become a great soul balladeer.
Overall, Lee's "Just No Other Way" isn't a bad album -- it's just not quite as good as the singer herself. Here's hoping that her next English album includes songs strong enough to really let her shine.
Shades of Purple (Atlantic 83258)
Mention the term "teen pop," and what springs to mind are good-looking marionettes dancing to beat of anonymous songwriters and producers. But M2M is exactly the opposite. Not only does this Norwegian duo do most of its own songwriting, but the two Ms -- teen-agers Marion Raven and Marit Larsen -- also play their own instruments. Maybe that's why "Shades of Purple" seems much more heartfelt than most teen-pop albums. Whether working the slick, danceable groove of "Mirror Mirror" or retreating to the reflective, folk-influenced sound of "Don't Say You Love Me," M2M delivers a sound that is as admirable as it is individual, reminding us that there's more to teen pop than Britny Spears or the Backstreet Boys.
The Bloodhound Gang
Hooray for Boobies (Geffen/Republic 0694904554)
Forget talking to your inner child -- the Bloodhound Gang wants a word with your inner 13-year-old boy, the part of you that listens to Howard Stern and likes "The Man Show." This boy has precisely the sort of sniggering, self-consciously dirty mind that "Hooray for Boobies" was designed for. Its intensely puerile focus touches on every topic dear to the adolescent mind: Sex ("Three Point One Four"), violence ("I Hope You Die") and porn stars ("The Ballad of Chasey Lain"). Musically, the album is basically Beastie Boys for Dummies, but even so, there are a few songs that manage to stand on their own, like the synth-driven sex rap, "The Bad Touch."
BTNHRESURRECTION (Ruthless 63581)
Make no mistake, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony know their hip-hop cliches. From the hospital-room death scene that opens "Show 'Em," to the weapon worship that fuels "2 Glocks," to the shameless materialism of "Mind on Our Money," "BTNHRESURRECTION" doesn't just touch all the bases -- it whacks them with a baseball bat. Even when the quartet shows off its gift for harmony on "Weed Song," it's in service of a painfully obvious reefer joke. To its credit, BTNH does manage to deliver a solid set of beats, filling tracks like "The Righteous Ones" and "Can't Give It Up" with sinuous push-and-pull rhythms that add extra energy to the rapid-fire raps. But on the whole, there's nothing here we haven't heard before.