* * ACE OF BASE, "The Bridge," Arista. ABBA lite (we're talking featherweight) with a reggae beat alternates with bouncy, fulsome pop from this international-hit Swedish group. A few tunes ("Perfect World," "Lucky Love") are eminently hummable. But the inscrutable liner notes are more entertaining.
* * 1/2 MELISSA ETHERIDGE, "Your Little Secret," Island. Etheridge retreats almost exclusively to the sort of baseball-and-beer rock she began with and at least partially copped from Bruce Springsteen. The album is most successful on the quieter numbers, such as "I Could Have Been You."
* * * NATALIE MERCHANT, "Tigerlily," Elektra. A rejuvenated Merchant sounds considerably more mature and womanly than the 10,000 Maniacs gave her room to be. Positive progress for a talent that is still in bloom.
* * * 1/2 VARIOUS ARTISTS, "Waiting to Exhale" soundtrack, Arista. African American divas (including the movie's star Whitney Houston, Mary J. Blige, TLC and Brandy) sing about the foibles of love and relationships. Producer and writer Babyface has captured what it can mean to be a woman in 1995.
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (f a ir), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).