The strategy behind Natasha Bedingfield’s sophomore effort takes the popular trend of marketing albums differently in various geographical regions to obscene new levels. Rather than simply promoting the singer’s latest record with singles targeted to various demographics and cultural tastes, Bedingfield’s record label has released one version of the album, last year’s N.B., in her native U.K. and a second version, Pocketful of Sunshine, in the U.S. Sunshine retains six of its predecessor’s 13 tracks, but with the exception of the more urban-leaning lead single “Love Like This” and the Rodney Jerkins-produced “Angel” (not to be confused with N.B.‘s hipper “Tricky Angel”), the inclusions and exclusions only seem to make the album marginally better suited for American audiences. (Ironically, a track featuring Eve was excised from the U.S. version.) It took almost two years (and a few hair-color commercials) before I finally submitted to the simple-pleasure vanilla-gospel appeal of Bedingfield’s hit “Unwritten,” but despite some attempts at quasi-uplift (“Freckles”) and childhood nostalgia (“Backyard”), there’s little here that’s likely to reprise the slow-burning success of that inspirational smash. The title track, on the other hand, is easily the strongest of the new songs, evocative of Nelly Furtado’s Loose, and though the album’s pedestrian lyrics don’t do Bedingfield’s voice real justice, the way she sings “Oh, somebody tell me why I’m on my own?” on “Soulmate” is admittedly pretty devastating. If there were a discernable difference between N.B. and Sunshine, either in quality or marketability, the dual album approach might seem like a stroke of marketing genius; instead, the whole enterprise reeks of an artist too willing to be packaged and sold like assorted incarnations of Barbie.
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