t.A.T.U - "200 km/h in the Wrong Lane" (by Joel Frady)

Time of publication: 22.01.2003
With a sound reminiscent of Ian Van Dahl's tech dance-specific approach combined with over-filled helium balloons, Russia's controversial act t.A.T.u has tried, seemingly unsuccessfully, to make their long-awaited debut in America. Their debut album, "200 Po Vstrechnoy," sold over one million copies in Russia and Eastern Europe, making them the first-ever Eastern European group to achieve these sales, and they were presented with the acclaimed International Federation of the Photographic Industry Platinum Europe Award (Europe's version of America's Platinum Record Sales).

But, t.A.T.u may have made a wrong move by trying to bring their "crunchy" electronic pop to the States.

While the Euro-pop sound still reigns, obviously, in Europe, America has come to embrace a new sound that consists of "honest" instrumentals and powerful voices. Not to say these two Moscow teens lack powerful voices -- it's powerful when you have to reduce the treble on the stereo in order to listen to an album. Their catchy lyrics and synthesized beats have just come a little too late.

Had they brought their platinum album stateside in late 2001 or early 2002, Julia and Lena may have found success much easier with an American market dominated with singles such as Ian Van Dahl's "Castles in the Sky," Eiffel 65's "Blue (Da Ba Dee)" and Kylie Minogue's "Can't Get You Out of My Head."

t.A.T.u was originally conceived by Ivan Shapovalov, a Russian psychiatrist turned producer, who auditioned several underage girls for a new pop group that could possibly be Europe's answer to Britney Spears. Through these auditions, Shapovalov found two females who had previously performed together in a child group called Neposedi.

He used the same techniques as Lou Pearlman (N'Sync, Backstreet Boys and O-Town) to create a group that was not only musically gifted in voice but also appealing in sexuality. But rather than presenting the young girls as "innocent" sex objects in school-girl outfits, Shapovalov created a Lolita group formed of 17-year-old lesbians wearing panties and skimpy undershirts. Their risquй live shows consist usually of topless women, wet, white T-shirts and 50,000 crazed fans ranging from age 5 to 75.

Although their appeal may sound all good and fun, their sound lacks the luster that their image portrays. DJ Tiesto-style intros and hyped-up, "remix"-sounding tracks plague their otherwise mediocre album. Songs like the beat-heavy, lyrically redundant track "Not Gonna Get Us" give the album a mood which may please the (easily pleased) club junkies, while the cookie-cutter tracks "30 Minutes" and "Stars" fill the void left for radio hits.

The highlight of the album is the debut single, "All the Things She Said," backed up by its presence being felt twice, once in English and once in Russian. Where it too possesses redundant lyrics, Lena and Julia truly display their vocal talent backed by catchy beats and riffs.

This album is by no means bad, and anyone should take a chance and listen to their far-from-unique sound. But, their rendition of the Smiths' classic "How Soon Is Now?" is truly insulting when it begins playing on the stereo. The lyrics fit the image in which Shapovalov is trying to express without flaw, but the manner in which it's sung is a complete ridicule of Morissey's genius. In order for one to successfully cover a landmark classic, it must be performed better than or just as well as the original, which is nearly impossible; in other words, don't tamper with something that's not broken, especially with empty vocals and a lack of understanding of the heart of music.

Unless the likes of Avril Lavigne, Vanessa Carlton, Michelle Branch and Norah Jones disappear completely, don't expect "200 km/h in the Wrong Lane" to reach the top of Billboard. But anything could happen ... U2 did, after all, come out of extinction to score a Grammy Award-winning album, so why can't a couple of 17-year-olds making out in pajamas break into the pop charts while their psychologist/ manager/ producer counts their cash?

Does anyone else picture this guy surfing the net with Peter Townsend and Paul Reubens for kiddie porn?

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