t.A.T.u.

200 km/h in the Wrong Lane (Universal Russia/Interscope)

Redheaded Lena Katina and brown-haired Julia Volkova are t.A.T.u., two Russian teenagers who may or may not be lesbians involved in a steamy underage relationship; 200 km/h in the Wrong Lane, their English-language debut, is scorched-earth teen-exploitation pop nearly as good as "My Boyfriend's Back" and "Leader of the Pack." Obviously, this is the point: "All the Things She Said," a bubblegum-industrial monster of a song that has dominated Europe like the bubonic plague, tells the tale of the girls' star-crossed love in a head-explodingly simple translation of the Russian (which, to be fair, probably ain't Chekhov): "Being with you has opened my eyes," they sing. "Could I ever believe such a perfect surprise?" But the tune is fixed at such a ridiculously melodramatic fever pitch -- clanging programmed drums; crunchy power chords; Lena and Julia's high, adenoidal vocals; a killer synth solo -- that it makes the provocative story line thrilling, a human drama bigger than any Svengali's get-rich-quick scheme. The girls' rendition of the Smiths' "How Soon Is Now?" -- already an electrifying portrait of young-person hysteria -- is even better. When they sing, "I am human, and I need to be loved," the emotion swallows the song -- it's Avril Lavigne discovering how complicated things can really get. Of course, 200 km/h's not all high dudgeon: Former Buggle Trevor Horn slickened the album's sound for American audiences, and he makes saccharine-rush Eurocheese out of "Clowns (Can You See Me Now?)," an indecipherable howl of Eastern European paranoia. Still, perhaps despite themselves, t.A.T.u. has tapped into some immortal teenage drama here; they're not that big, but they're awfully strong.

 
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