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 group that consists of a pair of strikingly photogenic teen-age lesbians from Moscow, is presold regardless of song quality. Its album cover and insert art alone will move copies, and eager American bidders, most of whom are probably not fluent in the band's native tongue, 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 on 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 shouting over the din, sounding like rabid yet chipper chipmunks. The calm segments flatter their thin voices, making them sound voluntarily wispy instead of unintentionally shrill. Wisely short at eight tracks (plus a few native-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 blasphemous. 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.