** 1/2 Savage Garden, "Affirmation," Columbia. Thanks to such hits as 1997's "I Want You," this Australian-bred duo found a niche among the positive-minded dance-pop set. But unlike all those bopping, grinning, Stepford-wife acts topping the charts these days, Savage Garden has an actual soul. It may not run too deep on the group's second album (due Tuesday), but it's there.
Singer Darren Hayes writes the lyrics, and musician Daniel Jones crafts the music, giving the songs actual personal meaning. Even the sound, which eschews new-jack flava in favor of a towering '80s synth-disco feel with a few techno touches, departs from the usual R&B-pop formula. Unfortunately, the super-slick production creates a robotic sheen, which is OK for such throw-up-your-hands-and-dance numbers as the house-flavored "The Best Thing," but over-amplifies the melodrama in such slight balladry as "The Lover After Me."