Jennifer Lopez/Vitamin C

Remember back when Jennifer Lopez was just an actress? It was just yesterday, it seems, when she was running around with a big-ass snake, trying her damnedest not to get swallowed up whole by this beast -- and before that, she was in Anaconda. Now it appears Lopez is trying to do everything but your taxes: singer, dancer, actress, clothing designer, gatekeeper to the bowels of hell -- she wants it all.

But don't start calling her J. Oprah just yet. Just one listen to her sophomore album, J. Lo (which has to be the most sublimely narcissistic title since LL Cool J's G.O.A.T.: The Greatest of All Time), and you'll see she still needs to work out the kinks in her master plan to reach HARPO-like status.

J. Lo is an equal-opportunity platter of middle-of-the-road and R&B-heavy pop. Lopez adopts a great many personae here -- first among them, it appears, is Janet Jackson. Her ready-for-the-clubs tracks like "I'm Real" and "Play" sound like the littlest Jackson circa Control, while the purring, unrequited-love ballad "Secretly" is the kind of shit that made Jackson the singing sex kitten she is today. Lopez tries her best to be distinctive, such as when she soothes her Latino listeners with the flamenco pop of "Ain't It Funny" and the mambo-style "Cariño."

But then there are moments when Lopez is slumming -- and sometimes it's not even her fault. In what has to be the most pitiful display of laziness since Lopez's ex declared you could sample tunes that were already sampled by other artists, producer Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins recycles the melody he created on Toni Braxton's hit "He Wasn't Man Enough" on Lopez's "That's the Way." All in all, J. Lo is a tolerable mix, but she shouldn't start getting all big in the head -- we still haven't figured out what the fuck she was doing in The Cell.

An orange-haired Calista Flockhart with rhythm, Vitamin C wants to be a 21st-century pop diva. She sings, dances, acts -- hell, the girl even has her own doll. There's something admirable in Vitamin C's will to become pop music's latest dancing queen. Every track on More appears to be factory-tested to play on dance floors across the globe. But could there be such a thing as synthesizing oneself to death? If there is, Vitamin C nearly blips herself to an early grave. C and her production crew spend so much time reveling in high-tech whimsy that the music seems hollow. Tunes like "The Itch" and "Busted" are polished dance-pop compositions, but they're no more daring than a Celine Dion song getting a Todd Terry remix for the clubs. Other tunes suffer the same problem. "Sex Has Come Between Us" doesn't sound as provocative as it should. And when she perkily covers the Waitresses' 1982 hit "I Know What Boys Like," it's devoid of the snarky irony that made the original such a classic. Now, it's just another fluffy single for the WB-watching bunch.

While Vitamin C may have the throatiness of the more enigmatic latter-day dance vocalists (Esthero, Martina Topley-Bird and Portishead's Beth Gibbons come to mind), she lacks their dark, beguiling conviction. In fact, she ends up sounding more like mercifully forgotten '80s dance queens Kim Wilde and Kylie Minogue.

Both Vitamin C and Jennifer Lopez are trying too hard to become new-millennium pop stars. Hell, they've already got the job. They should chill and take the time to find their voices so their music won't sound so forced.

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Craig D. Lindsey
Contact: Craig D. Lindsey