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Import Zone | column | Lollipop

Import Zone

by Michael McCarthy

Mes Courants Electriques... is the second album by France's immensely popular Alizée. Like her debut, Gourmandises, all of the songs on this sophomore effort were written and produced by Mylène Farmer and her longtime collaborator, Laurent Boutonnat. In fact, Boutonnat also handled the programming and keyboards, making it truly sound like a Mylène Farmer album sans Mylène. Something that makes one wonder why Mylène didn't contribute some backing vocals to the disc, but then that might've made it a bit harder for listeners to regard the disc as Alizée's second album and not a Mylène Farmer side-project. Still, it was its status as a Mylène Farmer side-project that helped Gourmandises sell millions and millions and win damn near every award a pop album could possibly win throughout Europe, so that might not've been a bad thing. But it's probably a sign of respect for her prodigy that Mylène refrained from singing on the disc, not wanting to upstage her.

Alizée's voice still sounds as sweet and youthful as it did on Gourmandises – and she's still wearing those Lolita-style short skirts – but there exists a nice progression between the two albums. There are little things she does with her voice on Mes Courants Electriques that show her growth as a singer. Subtle things, but still... There's a meow-like sound she makes during the first verse of "Toc de Mac" that demonstrates how at home she feels with these songs and with her singing. A giddy little expression that any of our pop starlets here in the States would never've released. But there's something beyond her adorable smile and the freshness of her voice – the rare ability to convey irony with her voice. (No wonder the extremely mysterious Mylène chose her when she wanted to write for someone else.)

The first single, "J'en ai marre!," translates to "I'm Fed Up!" in English, yet she sings it playfully, as if she's having a great time, merely being sarcastic. Which makes sense, since the lyrics would seem to be about forgetting her troubles in a bubble bath. (At least at first glance. Is the poisson really a fish or, dare I wonder, a vibrator? Hmm... Guess they had to top the controversy of Gourmandises' "Moi... Lolita" somehow.) Easier to understand is "Amélie m'a dit," which would seem to be a nice homage to the movie of the same name that translates as "Amélie Told Me." If you like Tatu's blend of pop, electronica, and naughty lyrics, you won't want to miss this. And don't bother waiting for an English-language version of the disc because it's not going to happen. (www.moi-alizee.com)

If you still haven't checked out Korea's Lee Soo Young, you must pick up (well, OK, so you'll probably have to mail-order) Lee Soo Young vol. 4.5: Sweet Holiday in Lombok. The two-CD set comes in a box with a cute photo album and contains all of her hits. Admittedly, it's a confusing collection. Her biggest hits have always been her ballads, and many of her non-ballads or lesser-known ballads are presented in new orchestral form. Meanwhile, a few of her best, upbeat pop songs, such as "Kiss," remain in their original form, seeming very out of place. But it's a great opportunity for one to explore her unforgettable voice. Fans will want it for the new orchestral tracks and her catchy new cover of J-pop sensation Zard's hit "Good-day." (www.leesooyoung.com)

With all of the fuss about the movie Bend It Like Beckham, one might be curious about the debut solo album by David Beckham's wife and former member of The Spice Girls, Victoria Beckham. After all, both of The Spice Girls' Mels went on to release irresistible solo albums, and you can hardly escape the name Beckham these days. However, "Posh Spice's" solo disc just isn't worth the import price. I wouldn't even recommend it if it were given a domestic release. The songs aren't catchy enough and her voice isn't very memorable. It almost sounds like you're listening to a demo. Or a J-Lo disc! The songs might be somewhat diverse, but they don't fit together very well, sounding more like a compilation of tracks intended for different albums. Hey, Mel C picked the electronic pop genre, recruited William Orbit and the like and worked wonders. And Mel B picked the r&b genre and also ran with the ball. But Beckham kicks the bloody ball in every direction possible without ever scoring. (www.victoriabeckham.mu)

Rainbow is the fifth studio album of original material by Japan's Ayumi Hamasaki and it's nothing short of dazzling with its variety of sounds and textures. A true pop odyssey if ever there was one. It opens with a seductive instrumental called "Everlasting Dream," but fans of her previous album, I am..., will surely be pleased by the second track, "We Wish," which finds Ayumi's always-beautiful voice intertwined with lots of heavy metal-style guitars. The following track, "Real Me," has a heavy r&b beat, yet the songs are equally detailed and somehow fit together perfectly. Likewise, the following track is a breathtaking epic ballad called "Free & Easy" and it doesn't sound out of place at all. How many artists can go from heavy-metal style guitar solos to a funky r&b beat to a ballad and still produce a coherent album that doesn't merely sound like a collection of singles? (This is the album Victoria Beckham apparently thought she was making!) One of the many reasons why Ayumi is one of the most popular pop divas in the world. (www.avexnet.or.jp/ayu)

   


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