Natacha Atlas

The Belgian-born Natacha Atlas has been impressing the rest of the world since the mid-Eighties. Her forlorn, aching vocals on solo LPs like Halim and Gedida have graced the recordings of artists as varied as Peter Gabriel, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, and ethnotechno collective Transglobal Underground. But Atlas's appeal has proved heretofore untranslatable to most Westerners.

On her new album, Something Dangerous, Atlas desperately attempts to merge the sand-shifting tonality of her voice into the more commercially viable musical environments of hip-hop and dancehall. But despite the best efforts of a production team that includes Brian Higgins (Cher, Sugababes) and Andy Grey (BT), Atlas fails to acclimate to their stylishly mediocre musical settings. Not all of the new directions are ill-advised -- the dark, aggressive breakbeat track "Daymalhum" works quite well, as does her surprisingly adept cover of "It's A Man's Man's Man's World," since she doesn't pretend to be like something she isn't on either song. But her quavering, yearning voice contains none of the streetwise aggressiveness needed for the American R&B trappings of songs like "Love Thing" and the title track, which suit her so badly that she only makes brief appearances on both.

Of course one could never accuse Atlas of being a purist. After all, her association with the aforementioned Transglobal Underground helped jump-start her career. But in more ways than one, Atlas comes off on Something Dangerous as a woman cursed by the trends of her time. -- Justin Hampton

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Justin Hampton