Picks and Pans Review: Steppin' Out

updated 08/21/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/21/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Cleopatra (Maverick)

Lately the pop music biz has been operating like a smokestack industry. With major-label assembly lines spewing out more product than Detroit, record store shelves overflow with CDs from soundalike teeny pop vocal groups. And while the Britneys and Backstreeters rely on producers, studio musicians and songwriters to churn out their stuff, it is refreshing to hail the talented, relatively self-sufficient Cleopatra.

Indeed, the Manchester, England-bred Higgins sisters—Zainam, 19, Cleopatra, 18, and Yonah, 16—are, as the old song says, sisters doing it for themselves. Lead singer Cleopatra, who wrote the trio's peppy 1998 hit "Cleopatra's Theme," contributed eight of the album's 11 tracks, while her sibs provide intricate harmonies. They've been compared with both the Spice Girls and Hanson, but their effervescent sound feels more like the Jackson 5, with Cleopatra grooving like the young, pregloved Michael. And though the songs and emotions here are more complex than on their 1998 Comin' Atcha debut (the girls sound positively womanly on tunes like "Questions and Jealousy"), they act their age, delightfully, on "Yes This Party's Going Right."

Bottom Line: Talented do-it-yourself teens

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