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Boy-Band Fame and Its Trials

* 1/2 'N SYNC, "Celebrity,"\o7 Jive\f7

July 22, 2001|NATALIE NICHOLS

A wise man once observed that when musical performers become famous, their songs often reflect nothing more scintillating than the state of their careers. And so it is with J.C., Justin, Lance, Joey and Chris, whose hotly anticipated new album (in stores Tuesday) pushes aside the playful naughtiness of "No Strings Attached" to veer unevenly between superstar attitude and poor-little-big-shot vulnerability.

"What we're doing is not a trend," they proclaim on the pumping, electro-hip-hop track "Pop," co-written by Justin Timberlake and co-produced by techno fixture BT. The tune's blend of processed vocals and percussive tick-tocking sets the audio-animatronic disco show in motion. But try as they might, the lads still show no sign of being anything more than the flavor of however many moments are left to be squeezed from the predictable pastiches of Prince, Michael Jackson, the Bee Gees and miscellaneous betters.

These put-upon heroes even offer not one but two tunes obsessing over whether anyone can truly love the men behind their hyper-idolized images. The squiggly funk-pop title track plays it plaintive, but the pulsing brushoff "Just Don't Tell Me That" stands tough. Both stop just short of being insufferably egomaniacal.

However, such sweet and far more human numbers as the acoustic-flavored ballad "Gone" and the skipping daydream "The Two of Us" are sure to tug at innocent hearts, thus forcing 'N Sync to continue pondering the pitfalls of fame. As for the not-so-innocent, take heart. 'N Sync can say "this must be pop" now, but somewhere, in some form, the next Beatles, Stooges or Nirvana is out there, and it is going to blow these boys away.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two (fair), three (good) and four (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.

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