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Nikka Costa

In what surely ranks as the year's most laughable use of subliminal art, Nikka Costa's flawed debut album is festooned with photos of a neon star. She's a star all right: an ambitious singer-songwriter with impressive retrofunk chops, swarthy good looks, and a gospel-influenced vocal style. On Everybody Got Their Something, she proves her heart is in the right place, but her songs are undercut by a lack of hooks and a numbing sameness in their approach.

Even before the release of this debut, Costa stirred up a music-industry buzz. Her intoxicating single "Like a Feather" was featured in a Tommy Hilfiger TV ad that eventually went into heavy rotation on MTV and VH1. The celebrity die was cast when Costa appeared on the season finale of The Chris Rock Show. Now Costa's hotly anticipated debut album has finally arrived, resulting in yet another heavily rotated music video for "Like a Feather." And while the single retains its irresistible charm, the other songs featured on Everybody Got Their Something aren't quite as ingratiating. Like a growing number of female vocalists, Costa traffics in irritating psychobabble and spiritual mumbo jumbo. The aforementioned single features awkward couplets such as "I'm coming out of my wishing well/Where only echoes lonely hear my prayers." Huh? On the album's title track, she sings of having her "Face to the sky, dreaming/About just how high I could go."

Though such references to ascension are ostensibly spiritual, one suspects Costa is subconsciously pondering how high her career will go. Contrary to her metaphysical lyrics, promotional photos feature Costa in revealing blouses and other come-hither regalia. For a supposedly spiritual gal, she's far too willing to use her body to advance her music. To her credit, however, she addresses her ethical dilemmas on the funk-rock foray "Tug of War," where she observes "My soul wants to go one way, but my/Heart and mind are in a tug of war with me." That single candid confession keeps Everybody Got Their Something from seeming a total sham. Despite the fine performances and retrograde production flourishes, Costa's derivative songs only reinforce the notion that she's a female Lenny Kravitz. And when you stop to consider that Kravitz is the poor man's Prince, then Costa's album ultimately seems like a sad example of musical devolution.

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Bruce Britt

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