Picks and Pans Review: Drive

updated 09/07/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/07/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Bic Runga (Columbia)

What's this? A pop diva from Down Under, or thereabouts, who never once appeared on a soap opera? Following on the heels of Australian daytime TV actresses-turned-singers Natalie Imbruglia and Kylie Minogue, Runga (who's actually a New Zealander by birth, with a Chinese mother and Maori father) has made a splash primarily on the strength of her musical talents.

Indeed, the 22-year-old singer brings ample gifts to this impressive debut, which was a huge hit in her native land. She is the CD's producer and arranger, wrote all the songs, plays guitar, xylophone, mellotron and, on one cut, even drums. Oh, one thing more: She sings, both lead and backup vocals, in a soothing, seductive style reminiscent of Sade. Nice and mellow on the surface, Runga's best tunes suggest the tensions that underpin many relationships—and a self-assurance well beyond her years.

Bottom Line: Impressive debut of a Kiwi with killer talent

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