SO YOU want to be a teen-age rock 'n' roll star.
Here's the formula for females, from the Britney Spears school of music.
You should be 18 but look 27. You should be sexy and able to silk your way through dance routines with a host of nubile young men and women. You should be a a former Mouseketeer and be able to mimic R & B and hip-hop music. And most important of all, you have to be able to lip-sync.
Put it all together and you have Christina Aguilera.
Aguilera is the latest teen fave, and this girl has the whole package.
"Genie in a Bottle," Aguilera's smash single off her new album, is chock-full of hip-hop riffs, sexual innuendo, slick production and, of course, a video with choreography, lip-synching and camera shots that continually focus on Aguilera's navel.
The lyrics go something like this: "I'm a genie in a bottle, baby/Come and love me the right way/I'm a genie in a bottle, baby/Come and rub me the right way."
The rest of the album follows a predictable path. "What a Girl Wants" offers more light hip-hop. Aguilera, despite being buried by production, has a way of selling a song.
Aguilera has some talent. She recorded the song "Reflection" for the Disney movie "Mulan." That recording earned her a Golden Globe nomination, and Aguilera identified with the number.
"The song's theme, to establish your identity, was something I could really relate to," she said. Aguilera spent two years on "The New Mickey Mouse Club," so she has her props to a teen audience.
Aguilera reveals her deeper side on a ballad, "I Turn to You," that comes straight out of the Michael Jackson songbook. She adds soothing vocals on "So Emotional" with a funk-laced beat.
The rest of the CD, though, is mostly fluff. Aguilera's sugary ballads and techno beats blend in a generic sound and style. Regardless, Aguilera's timing is right. In an era of shifting musical taste and a hunger for teen acts, she fits the bill. Rating: . ***
Tori Amos, unlike Aguilera, fits no category and defies all expectations. It has been that way since her first solo release, "Little Earthquakes" in 1992.
Amos established herself as a unique musician and songwriter and she retains her sense of exploration and adventure on her new release. It includes one CD of new material and another filled with live recordings of past efforts.
"Bliss," the opening track, deals with a familiar Amos theme: family relationships. It's a song about loss and search for happiness. The song begins with a soft piano and Amos in a wounded voice. The number moves ahead to a rocking beat but jumps back and forth in a hazy attempt to make sense of the pitfalls of life and love.
"Juarez" is a musical carnival, filled with computer-enhanced sounds, electronic vocals and Amos' dark sense of irony. "Concertina" is more of a traditional Amos song, a light melody backed by her sweet voice and mysterious lyrics.
Amos has weathered many changes in the past few years. She married, suffered a miscarriage and seemed to cope with no longer being the angry, wild young lady of alternative music. She still mourns the loss of her child.
"I think about her," Amos said in a recent interview. "She was a little girl. But without her, I'm experiencing womanhood, not as a mother (but also) not as a woman who feels empty."
Amos' whimsical, melancholy view of the world shines through on "Glory of the '80s." The track moves to a disco and dance sound as Amos' voice reaches near operatic proportions. "In the glory of the '80s/You said, 'I'm not afraid to die,' " Amos coos. Later she sings, "I'll clone myself/Like that blond chick/Who sings 'Bette Davis Eyes.' "
Amos broods her way through "Lust," a soft number enhanced by a gentle piano. "Suede" is an angst-laden tale with a dark vocal. Other numbers sound jumbled; Amos' lyrics are, at times, so laden with image and metaphor that they only cause confusion.
Despite those shortcomings, Tori Amos is among contemporary music's most provocative performers.
"A Thousand Oceans," the closing track, is a powerful, tender song that is among the most haunting and moving songs of Amos' career. It's a testament to her talent and humanity and lifts this CD to a higher level. Rating: . ****
Chris Cornell reached the top of the charts during the mid-'90s with the grunge band Soundgarden. That band split two years ago and now Cornell is back with a solo effort that shows his softer, pop side.
Cornell eases up on "Can't Change Me," a track that emphasizes melody, lush backing and a surprisingly moving vocal.
The singer was determined to bring a new sound to the CD. "You can't just stop and rest on past achievements," he said in a press statement. "You always have to create something new rather than just borrow or lean on what you've done in the past. The world is wide open."
Cornell's world is filled with imagery and psychedelic riffs on "Flutter Girl." Cornell sounds downright Beatlesque on "Preaching the End of the World," which would have been right at home on "Rubber Soul."
"Follow My Way" features an acoustic guitar and Cornell's gentle vocal. "When I'm Down" is a gritty blues track, unlike anything Cornell has done before.
"I really love old R & B ballads of the '60s and wanted to sing in that style," Cornell said. "In a way, it's like reinventing the wheel. How can I make it a little different? I wanted to take it to another place."
Cornell offers a touching but rocking tribute to the late Jeff Buckley in a song called "Wave Goodbye." Cornell wrote the song right after Buckley drowned a few years ago.
"Sweet Euphoria" is a slow number filled with longing and loss.
Chris Cornell has made one of the most surprising albums of the year. He has shed his Soundgarden skin and stamped his personality on his music. Rating: . ****
CHRISTINA AGUILERA Christina Aguilera (RCA 6790-2)
TORI AMOS To Venus and Back (Atlantic 83230; to be released Tuesday)
CHRIS CORNELL Euphoria Morning (A & M 4904122; to be released Tuesday)