The three-year war of American teen-pop's holy reformation (2001-2004) left a scarred countryside of sects, quirks, and "urban" makeovers. Adherents to the faith of absurd gimmicks, crude emotional manipulation, lush overproduction, and shameless naivete have since been forced afield to find music that just feels good. Britain's Sugababes are most unwittingly known for their 2000 hit "Overload," which Christina Aguilera remade as, ahem, "Make Over." Now they're on album four of frosty beats, electro-freakery, and melisma-free Motown revivalism. This release is their most confident to date -- even the duo's aching acoustic ballads such as "2 Hearts" are less fragile and more celebratory. The album's bass lines recall mashed tracks from Depeche Mode to Madchester, and this winking knowingness gives an element of "the thinking man's girl group" to their sophisticated sheen. The Emma Peel to J. Simpson's Daisy Duke, they offer perfect seduction music for your latest international ingenue.
The t.A.T.u. girls, meanwhile, are disturbingly bloodied Charlie's Angels that one either flaunts or conceals. Russia's premier underwear-clad technobeat lesbian lover (or not) exports, their video for "All About Us" -- censored by MTV for graphic violence -- is Russ Meyer with a Steadicam and a pirated copy of Final Cut Pro. Buzz-sawing guitar, DJ Sammy-esque house beats, and densely layered arpeggiated choral arrangements flesh out sweetly delivered tracks in equal parts "Castles in the Sky," White Zombie, and "Zombie Nation." Over Dangerous and Moving's production -- which feels as deeply as teenagers think they do -- t.A.T.u. bludgeons us in the best possible way with hooks crafted around basic emotions: "If they hurt you/They hurt me too," "She loves me not," and best of all, "I only want what I can't have." Come for the sexy; stay for the sap.
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