200 KM/H in the Wrong Lane

Americans have become lactose-intolerant of domestic cheese. After years of being force-fed Velveeta-quality entertainment, they've started to demand exotic flavors. However, equally processed, imported acts offer an unfamiliar tang and a welcome consistency, without the mushy blandness or rancid odor of power ballads.

In 2002, Kylie Minogue became the wine-and-pop connoisseur's chanteuse of choice, thanks to her scorching slow-song-free collection Fever. This year's tastiest slice comes from Russia with lust. T.A.T.U., a pair of strikingly photogenic teenage lesbians from Moscow, comes presold regardless of song quality. The album cover and insert art alone will move copies, and eager American bidders are shelling out big bucks for T.A.T.U.-filled back issues of Russian Maxim on Internet auction sites. The duo's debut video, "All the Things She Said," contains so many softcore clichés that it might work better on Cinemax than M2. But when the tune pops up on the radio, away from the schoolgirl skirts and strategic shirt-drenching downpours, it's curiously engaging.

Producer Trevor Horn, who worked wonders with a homoerotic group of another gender (Frankie Goes to Hollywood), wrings the sweat from sassy dance floors and mosh pits into one potent potion. Grit-free guitars clash with thunderous thumps, then declare peace during breezy ambient bridges. T.A.T.U.'s singers, Lena Katina and Julia Volkova, strain their voices while shouting over the din, sounding like rabid yet chipper chipmunks. Wisely short at eight tracks (plus a few original-language reprises), 200 KM/H knows how quickly cute becomes grating, and acts accordingly.

Members of the cult of Morrissey might view T.A.T.U.'s best cut -- a charmingly chirpy version of the Smiths' supernaturally morbid "How Soon Is Now?" -- as blasphemy. In an astounding example of karaoke decontextualization, the group intones "You go home, and you cry, and you want to die" and "all my hope is gone" without a trace of depression. It works, for the same reason the disc works: T.A.T.U. knows better than to invest emotion into someone else's words, and gives the same "recess-rules!" reading to every tune it receives.

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