Kids stuff: M2M, Aqua, Centerstage

The new Hanson album is on the horizon, and this month also sees the release of a Greatest Hits package from one of the best (and shortest lived) girl groups of all time — Wilson Phillips (which includes a couple of the post-WP efforts by the girls) — but before the "Mmm Bop" boys and "Hold On" girls take their latest pop shelf bows, there are a handful of other teen pop discs to fill your sweet teeth on the shelves right now:

 

M2M - Shades of Purple M2M
Shades of Purple
(Atlantic)
½


They donít get any more sweetly fey-voiced than the Norwegian teen girl duo M2M. The high school age girls debuted their cotton candy approach to sticky love pop on the Pokemon soundtrack last year with the utterly infectious "Donít Say You Love Me," which also leads off their new full-length album.

The rest of the disc follows up on the promise of that picture perfect ditty; nearly every track here is so catchy that youíll find yourself immediately humming along to their sing-song choruses. The girls sing in harmony most of the time, and deal with everyday themes from a youngish perspective like how to handle boys who say theyíre in love ("Donít Say You Love Me"), missing someone ("The Day You Went Away") and telling a love interest to take it slow "Give a Little Love."

The girls got help with their songs from the writers for Celine Dion, Spice Girls and Grammy-winning writer Carole Bayer Sager. One of the albumís catchiest tracks, "Our Song," is built around the chorus of the Bee Geeís hit "Too Much Heaven."

"Na-na-na"s and "yeah yeah"s abound, and they even show some sharp insight to the vagaries of young love:

"Maybe I donít have the blonde hair you like/or maybe I donít have eyes like the sky/...but I can show you what love means" they sing in "Girl In Your Dreams."

Itís probably a bit "chirpy" sounding for some pop lovers tastes, but Shades of Purple is the sweetest sounding teen pop album of the year.

 

Aqua - Aquarium Aqua
Aquarius
(MCA)


Aqua, another Scandinavian group (this one from Denmark), was the surprise cheeky pop hit of 1997 thanks to their dance pop hit "Barbie Girl"(which sent Mattel through the roof). The Swedish popsters are back this year with a new excursion filled with catchy keyboard riffs and thumping, infectious beats. This time around, itís something of a concept album, with the album cover set up in a science fiction theme — the band pictured with a spaceship that looks like something out of Jules Verne. Songs range from "Back From Mars" and "Around the World to "Freaky Friday" (which starts off with a goofy country and western prologue).

The CD leads off with "Cartoon Heroes," continuing the science fiction vein by casting the band as superspace heroes.

While much of the album depends on galloping beats and the energy of Lene Nystromís so-high-she-might-be-on-helium vocals, itís not all dance pop fare; "Good Guys" has a slowly scintillating beat that sounds like a lost Ace of Base song and the title track "Aquarius" takes its strength from a gentle piano soliliquoy with strings to back it up. "We Belong To The Sea" even includes a big backing choir.

Aquarius is best when Rene Dif keeps his growling Sugarcubes-esque duet vocals away from the mic, but if you approach this album like an aural comic book, itís great bouncy fun to listen to.

 

Various Artists
Centerstage Soundtrack
(Epic/Sony Music)
½


This soundtrack begins and ends with versions of bubblegum queen Mandy Mooreís "I Wanna Be With You," a lightly strummed, very gentle cut when compared to the upbeat tracks on her So Real debut last year. The track also appears on a new Moore remix album. The rest of the first half of the soundtrack introduces more high-voiced girl groups who, truthfully, are nearly indistinguishable from Moore. Cyrenaís layered ahs and ohs are more soulful on "Get Used To This," but International Fiveís clockwork harmonies on "First Kiss" follow with a sound that mimics Mooreís to a T. Ashley Ballard has a flutter of Mariah Carey in her youngish pipes on "Donít Get Lost in the Crowd" and Thunderbugsí power anthem "Friends Forever" sounds like a teen version of Wilson Phillips. But after all this girl pop power, the soundtrack continues with some non-teenie bop fare; Jamiroquai offers "Cosmic Girl" and "Canned Heat" Red Hot Chili Peppers offer the familiar hit "Higher Ground" and Michael Jacksonís "The Way You Make Me Feel" also turns up. Itís all chewable lite pop, but none of it packs the perfection punch that newcomer Loreta unveiled on the Friends Again TVshow soundtrack last year, but itís sweet stuff nonetheless.