If t.A.T.u. represents the tippy-top of the marketing universe, it also represents the bottom third of pop songwriting.

There may be a worthy sociological debate buried within the shtick of t.A.T.u.; a potential argument that their teen lipstick-lesbian persona aspires to take the Madonna/Britney strategy of using aggressive sexuality as an empowerment tool and blow it mercilessly out of the water. There could be, anyway, if every last note they recorded didn't give off the creepy vibe of being assembled by a boardroom stuffed with fleshy guys.

Hey, hot foreign teen girls who grope each like their pulse depends on it have been known to pique the interest of the occasional dude (not, of course, to disrespect Russia's large and thriving tradition of all-girl Catholic schools whose dress code stops right before the page for "thigh").

But if t.A.T.u. represents the tippy-top of the marketing universe, it also represents the bottom third of pop songwriting. Predictably, their sophomore album is lousy with that we're-serious-this-time vibe, the palpable straining that screams, "Take us on our artistic merits, at least until we start mauling each other."

It proves as soulless as it does anonymous. There are more tracks about trying to survive in a dance-club scene that looks down on lesbian relationships, wherever that is, a guest turn on the bass (!) from Sting (!!) and lyrics about separating friends from foes and wanting what you can't have, such as the ability to address such topics in a manner that matters.

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