Reviewed by Bruce Dennill
The immediate impression on seeing the track list and sleeve design of South African singer Melanie's new album (she's only 18, but she's been in the game for some time) is uncharitable but, sadly, accurate. Song titles like "1. 2. B With U" and "@ The C" - at the Red Sea, geddit? - and her scrubbed , ever-smiling countenance initially place her somewhere between the Olsen twins and Britney Spears, and this impression is borne out by the songs, which reveal a more natural musical talent than the former, and a voice very much like the latter. Unfortunately, she has nowhere near the budget of either, and so, despite the best efforts of her considerable entourage (the thank you list is admirably comprehensive), the songs here, for the most part, lack the heft of her closest competitors stylistically. Most of the album takes its lead wholesale from Spears' past efforts, with many of the rhythm tracks, keyboard loops and annoying vocal tics so similarly mannered that it would be difficult to tell the singers apart without giving each song a reasonably close listen. Given that several million teenage girls (and not a few young males) happily submitted to that marketing strategy the first time around, such an approach has its merits. If you skip "Let's Talk About This" - too many words for the meter and a hugely over-enthusiastic approach to voice filters - the album offers much to attract both the local (ie, South African) component of the designer-pop market as well as those listeners all over the world left cold by the sleazy lifestyles and general foolishness of the genre's more famous exponents. Also, marvel at the unexpected (given the context) power of the gorgeous "Do They See Jesus In Me?", a Steven Curtis Chapman-esque guitar-and-voice soliloquy, near-perfect in its execution (those vocal tics again, alas) and more honest and effective than anything else on this or any of her competitor's recent collections. This is a strong addition to the teenage pop market and offers a far more positive message to those impressionable listeners than any of Melanie's secular contemporaries. Look out for some enjoyable extras on the enhanced section of the CD.
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