Picks and Pans Review: Land of the Living

updated 07/29/1996 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/29/1996 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Kristine W

Dance music may be a joy to boogie-oogie-oogie to, but lately the bulk of it has been downright sad. Everything But the Girl picked up its snail's pace on recent singles, but the duo still sounds as forlorn as ever. La Bouche's two hits underscore buoyant vocals with dark minor-key arrangements, and Robert Miles has struck global gold with the techno-requiem "Children." Now Billie Ray Martin and Kristine W join neo-disco's downbeat club with their debut albums.

The German-born Martin sulks beautifully on Deadline for My Memories (Magnet/Sire/Elektra). A weeping synth riff echoes her mournful tremolo—which almost always sounds as if she's on the verge of crying—on the chorus of "Imitation of Life." And lamentations like "I Try" and the title song are among the most bittersweet torch ballads recorded since Annie Lennox mastered the art of melancholy with 1992 's Diva.

Kristine W also sings as if she's seen better days emotionally, but there's light at the end of her tunnel. The thumping house rhythm, exuberant keyboard motif and her whopping vocal on "Feel What You Want," the standout cut on Land of the Living (RCA), are miles away from Martin's chilly Eurobeat. Even when Kristine W strikes her gloomiest pose, as in the beginning of the title song—"I got a mirror, a bottle and a pen/ The mirror is cracked/ The bottle is empty/ And my pen don't know where to begin"—she conveys that somehow things will get better. They do. Before long, a jacked-up beat kicks in, and she rides it all the way to a happy ending.

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