When the visual of a young sexpot is matched to a voice or, in some cases, an ability to dance, act, walk down a runway or actually articulate cogent thoughts on late-night talk shows, sparks can and will fly.

Granted, McCann ain't no Dominique Swain. But for what the former lacks in physical appearance, she makes up for in what others would consider "talent." Her voice is soft, laced with twang -- so much, in fact, as to possibly preclude her from "crossing over" -- and probably no more impressive than those of most high school drama queens and/or cheerleading captains. The thing that separates this minidiva from her peers is her, well, maturity. Even though I'm absolutely certain this young Tacoma, Washington, native knows positively nothing about what it's like to observe an abusive relationship, she pulls off the line "you say that when he does come home / he only puts you down" in the song "Go Girl" as if she were sipping beer on the back porch with her mascara-stained, dress-torn neighbor. The phrase "you go, girl" -- originally urban patois intended to mean, in essence, "congratulations" or something -- takes on literal meaning as McCann sings it in this context, when she asks for the girl in the song to physically leave, go. And all this is just another example of America's fetish with black culture and lingo. Even down-home gals like McCann can't escape it.

The teenybopper's first single, "With You," isn't so avant-garde. It fits the cookie-cutter C&W radio mold perfectly. Almost too. The song begins with a couple jaunty strums of an acoustic six string then shifts abruptly into a catchy fiddle riff. The drums are strong, toe-tappy even, but make way quick for McCann to begin singing. Her love-flushed voice croons, "last night I couldn't sleep / I found it hard to even breathe / oh, I'm in trouble deep / with you." But she means "trouble" in a good way. The tune kind of makes you think crushes are so bad after all. The refrain, "I would go anywhere / do anything / no, I don't care / long as I know / I'll always go / with you," which is repeatedly mimicked by the happy fiddle melody, seems perfect for puppy lovers everywhere. Of any age.

Though McCann occasionally pitches in on songwriting, she more or less serves as a mouthpiece for producer Mark Spiro, who guided her debut, Lila, to gold. The hits, "Down Came a Blackbird," "Almost Over You," and the No. 1 seller, "I Wanna Fall in Love," presupposed a sophomore flop this time around. Though the formula hasn't changed, McCann's predictable sound incorporates a little more artistry, always appreciated by the Ford-drivin', chew-spittin', line-dancin' set. Since Nashville is home to some of the greatest studio musicians working today, the moody pedal steel solo on "Can You Hear Me," the formidable drumming of "I Will Be," and the solid fiddle work throughout Something present McCann as something more than a voice and face. What she'll be doing in five years, who knows? But -- now here's a great title for a country song -- if it ain't broke, don't fix it. McCann and Spiro have taken that advice to heart. And to the heartland.

-- Anthony Mariani

Britney Spears
...Baby One More Time

Damn this infernal Teen Renaissance!
That's what this is, you know. Nubile faces and adolescent ideals adorning every movie screen, TV show or album cover. It was cute at first. Now it's just out of control. She's All That, "Dawson's Creek," actors and actresses with more than two names -- you can't hide from it. Teen icons such as Brandy and Jennifer Love Hewitt are even doing triple duty; when they're not teaching the values of some damn thing on their respective TV shows, they're running around in wet shirts in slasher films or trying to appear winsomely prepubescent on Top 40 radio. I've seen the future, folks, and it's gonna be a Children of the Damned-esque existence where the girls wear halter tops, bell-bottoms and platforms, the guys build shrines to Katie Holmes made out of pizza and empty Sunny Delight bottles, and everybody -- everybody -- has a Backstreet Boys tape in his car. Run for your lives!

You need any more proof? Look at Britney Spears. This 17-year-old lollipop lovely (her wholesome yet tantalizing looks should have the WB knocking on her door to give her a development deal any day now) helped her neophyte album, ...Baby One More Time reach No. 1 on the album charts. What makes this cutie so special? Well, besides the fact that she looks like Sarah Michelle Gellar's really-wants-to-be-black kid sister, she collaborated on her album with the same producers who have worked with the pimply-faced likes of 'N Sync and Boyzone. And she also recorded most of it at Sweden's Cheiron Studios, the temple where the Backstreet Boys dropped their own teen-centered tunes. So in the minds of bare-midriffed mall rats everywhere, Spears is practically royalty. Isn't it a shocker that the album doesn't live up to those same high standards? The collection of songs that make up this album sounds blatantly, blissfully commercial. There are the blowsy, dewdrop ballads ("Sometimes," "From the Bottom of My Broken Heart"). There are even songs that sound like the less-than-favorable work of other artists. The boho "Soda Pop" sounds like an outtake from a Sugar Ray album. (It even has a super, catlike background rapper.) "E-Mail My Heart" is probably the album's biggest abomination, an almost laughable ditty that introduces computer love to the pop music world. (Actually Roger Troutman did it in the '80s with "Computer Love," but that was only known of in the black music world.) It's still not up to par with such mass-communication love songs as "Please Mr. Postman" or "Mr. Telephone Man." Only the spunky, funky title track and a rendition of "The Beat Goes On," in which the Sonny & Cher song gets dolled up as if it had been redone by the Propellerheads, are the ones you wouldn't be ashamed to admit you like.

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