Play

Replay

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Pop-tart quartet Play returns with its sophomore effort, cheekily entitled Replay. But the pop star landscape has changed dramatically in the few short years since the Swedish combo's debut. Just as Faye, Rosie, Anais, and Anna have grown up, their audience has largely moved on to the whip-smart wristband rock of Avril Lavigne and Pink's ground-level dance-punk. Even pop queen Christina Aguilera has shifted, having let her lusty Xtina alter ego out of its bottle for 2002's Stripped. Into this climate comes Replay, which tries to embrace Play's own emerging sexuality in its lyricism and photography, but falls short with unimaginative arrangements that either haven't left the fluffy PG beats of the quartet's (recent) past, or too closely imitate the hot modern R&B of Aguilera and especially Destiny's Child. The sexed-up romping of "Hot" (sample lyric: "I'm a hot girl, you need a hot girl/So hot") is unconvincing, as the track's essentially a rewritten, less groovy "Bootylicious." It's not that the girls in Play aren't ready for that kind of jelly; indeed, their harmonies throughout are flawless, and their voices seem almost too strong for the often wimpy material. It's just that they have no identity. Their bland moniker, monosyllabic names, and the new album's redundant title refuse to imbue any group member with the individuality needed to pull off a pop star coup in 2003 (i.e., the hyper-real personality of Pink, or Beyoncé Knowles' successful molting of D-Child), relegating the foursome to the rigid, antiquated parameters of the late-'90s-style pop vocal group. This is disappointing, since Replay's less shamelessly ambitious material shows some real promise from Play. "What Is Love" is a sunny jam that shows off the quartet's gorgeous harmonies, while the coy, faux trip-hop of "Honey to the Bee" is driven by a lyrical couplet that sassily mixes two well-known pop culture touchstones. Likewise, "Let's Get to the Love Part" and "2 Blocks Down" might not be Matrix-quality rockers, but they're successful pop gems dressed up with modernistic touches of organ and vintage synth. Material like this is definitely middle of the road. But until Play figures out what it really wants to be (for better or for worse), this center line is where the quartet is most convincing.

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